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Disaster relief response expands in Arizona

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Two additional Southern Baptist Disaster Relief mobile kitchens will set up June 27 in response to the expanding Arizona wildfires, which now have consumed more than 410,000 acres. The move brings to four the number of mobile kitchens preparing meals for both emergency workers and evacuated residents.

Disaster Relief leaders say two more units are on standby for a response that is expected to escalate.

“The 430 homes that have burned, there’s not a lot you can do in that setting,” said Mickey Caison, national coordinator for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, who is currently directly supervising the Arizona response. “We’re doing assessment of the kinds of ministries that can be done.

Among the possible plans is to base some of the ministry at First Baptist Church of Overgaard, a building that earlier in the week was thought to have been lost in the fire but actually was only badly scorched, according to Matt Gaston, director of evangelism and missions for the Desert Pines Association. The area is one of the hardest-hit by the fire, he said.

“I was talking with the pastor last night, and they’re going to try to set up a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief unit in their parking lot,” Gaston said, “so when they go back in they can start feeding the people in the community right there.”

Although no other churches have been damaged by the blaze, the evacuations have brought the cancellation of services at the church buildings. But several congregations are holding prayer services in shelters, Gaston said.

The mobile kitchens are working in partnership with the American Red Cross. Units from California and Texas have been based in Holbrook and Eagar, respectively, for several days. The new units, from Oklahoma and the “Top of Texas” unit, are setting up in Payson and Eagar today, Caison said.

The Top of Texas unit previously served meals for workers at the large Hayman fire south of Denver. The unit was staged briefly at Glorieta Baptist Conference Center before traveling on to the Arizona fires. Currently only one mobile kitchen remains in Colorado, an Arkansas unit based in Durango.

Caison added that efforts also are under way to bring in childcare workers for the Arizona response, with units from Texas, California and Oklahoma on standby status.

More than 25,000 trained volunteers currently are a part of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network nationwide. The units generally are owned and operated by state conventions and local associations and coordinated nationally by the North American Mission Board.

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  • James Dotson