OCALA, Fla. (BP)–Judy Price told her husband she wasn’t going to travel to Louisiana if her disaster relief unit was called out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was too dangerous there, she said. But before she knew it, she was in Lake Charles, La., sleeping in a tent and bathing with a water hose.
Price, 63, had joined up with a Southern Baptist disaster relief unit in 2004 when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jean rolled through Florida. Her first few times out on the field were fairly easy. But then came Hurricanes Katrina and Rita only weeks apart. The unit was scheduled to drive to Texas via Lake Charles to set up for Hurricane Rita recovery.
“It was a two-day drive and we kept driving and driving, not knowing where we were going,” Price, a member of College Road Baptist Church in Ocala, said. “We kept stopping at rest stops. We’d go in, get coffee, go to the bathroom, take a break and stretch. We got to Louisiana and there were no bathrooms. We wanted to stop at a gas station just to use the restroom facilities, and they didn’t have water and wouldn’t let us use their bathrooms. We were getting pretty desperate, and we didn’t know where we were going to go.”
Southern Baptist disaster relief is among the top three national organizations credited with providing the most volunteer help after hurricanes in recent years, along with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
Price’s husband, Joe, is 80 years old, and he travels on disaster relief expeditions along with her. The Prices are among the thousands of senior adults who volunteer their time and energy to helping people recover from natural disasters through state Baptist conventions and the North American Mission Board.
“We believe that volunteerism is the answer to the question of significance that a lot of people ask in life,” Jim Burton, senior director of partnership mobilization at NAMB, said. “Volunteer missions fills a real gap in the lives of many senior adults, particularly early retirees who have spent an entire career in some field of service from business to education or whatever and God has laid something on their heart that just won’t let go.”
Judy Price was a graphic designer before she retired, and she owned her own business for many years.
“I did logos, brochures, business cards, imprints on any kind of advertising specialties like pens, key chains and hats,” she said. “We did screen printing, embroidery and wedding invitations.”
On their way to Texas, Price and her fellow Baptists found themselves essentially stranded in the devastated city of Lake Charles.
“That first night, we ended up at the Salvation Army,” she told Baptist Press. “They did not have water but they did feed us. We were in need at that time. The only bathroom we had was on the bus, and it was full. We had tents. It was hard because the trees were down, and there were fire ants all over the place. We had to clear areas and mark where the fire ants were before we could even pitch a tent. We were kind of struggling that first night, and it was hot. It wasn’t the easy trips we had before where you go into a church, take a break and lay down.”
The next day, the unit was told to set up a headquarters at an abandoned Winn-Dixie building in Lake Charles rather than traveling on to Texas.
“The store was used as a furniture company for a while so it had carpet in it. Of course there was no electricity and the insulation in the ceiling was all soaked, so it was coming down through the acousticals,” Price said. “The acousticals were hanging down, the insulation was hanging down, the windows were all broken and glass was everywhere.
“We spent most of that day cleaning that store so we could sleep in there. Of course it was dark and we didn’t have any light except for the hole where the windows were,” she said. “The bathrooms were in the warehouse, but again there was no electricity and you couldn’t see them and they weren’t working. They finally got a crew in there to clean up the bathrooms, and we set up a generator from the disaster relief unit so they could string wires all the way back there so that we could use the restroom facilities up on the second floor of the warehouse.”
But the crew didn’t have shower facilities because the disaster relief shower unit was still on its way. They had gone three days without showering, Price said. The crew found a hose in the back of the warehouse, and the women showered with a water hose as other women stood guard to make sure they weren’t seen.
Soon the team was established enough to start preparing and serving meals to people in the community who had been left without electricity and without homes after Hurricane Katrina. Price said her motivation to endure the frustrating conditions was that she knew what it was like to be without a kitchen.
“There’s such a need when your routine is disrupted,” she said. “We had our kitchen renovated one time where we didn’t have a kitchen for a while and we were actually doing dishes in the bathtub. This is the type of thing that I can relate to. I can understand how you don’t have your refrigerator anymore. You don’t have your stove.
“For the first week or two, maybe longer, you’re not too sure where you’re going to eat because in the case of Lake Charles, there wasn’t a McDonald’s to run to,” Price added. “It wasn’t there anymore.”
Typically a food preparation team will start cooking at 6 a.m. in order to finish by 11 a.m. when the food line needs to open, she said. Then they start cooking again at 1 p.m. for the evening meal.
“It’s hard work,” Price said of cooking thousands of meals with a disaster relief unit. “Sometimes your back starts feeling it, and it’s hot. The fatigue is one of the hard parts because you get tired.”
Another tedious but necessary part of the work is the sanitation effort, she said, and each disaster relief worker in the food unit is trained extensively in preventing the spread of germs.
“You learn so much about how you almost have to overcompensate for maybe what the restaurants don’t even think about. We always sanitize our hands, the utensils, the cambros where the food goes in,” Price said. “Everything is sanitized. If you bend over and touch your shoe, you start all over again. You don’t wipe your nose in the middle of cooking because if you do, you have to go and get sanitized again. You start off with new gloves and you sanitize your hands and you get a new apron.”
Price has never been one to sit by and let life pass, she said. She has always been an active, hands-on person, she said, and that hasn’t changed as she has aged.
“People can use their skills no matter what age they are,” Price said. “Maybe it’s cooking or maybe it’s cleaning someone’s house. I’m sure if you called the local Baptist association, they can get a list of things that you can do that will help somebody else.”