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FBC Murray serves as vital hub during disaster relief

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief workers Gordan Hayworth and Cole Blakeman cover a home damaged by tornadoes in Mayfield, Ky. More than 140 disaster relief workers are helping those affected by storms in Mayfield. (Kentucky Today photo)

MURRAY, Ky. (BP) – There have been too many donation drives and relief efforts for Mayfield tornado victims established over the last 11 days to count, but one of the largest operations in the area is currently headquartered at First Baptist Church of Murray.

First Baptist Senior Pastor Keith Inman said the church is currently hosting more than 140 volunteers with Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief, which is a unit of the Southern Baptist Convention. Several other organizations assisting with relief efforts in Mayfield are also currently staying at the church. Inman said Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is a national organization with units in each state.

“This is the Kentucky Baptist Convention, but there’s a trailer outside from the Texas Baptist Convention and a trailer from Louisiana,” Inman said. “All these different entities, depending on the size of the tragedy, trade and equipment. There’s also a housing and shower unit here and washing machines and dryers.”

Kentucky’s disaster unit arrived in Murray the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 12, two days after the tornado hit Mayfield. Glenn Hickey, the unit’s Mayfield site director, said between 140 and 150 volunteers have been based at the church since then, primarily assisting with storm debris cleanup. 

“There’s roughly 1,000 volunteers with Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief,” Hickey said. “We’re on call, and what we’re doing here is basically chainsaw work and tarping roofs. Earlier in the year, we (helped after) Hurricane Ida doing (cleanup after flooding) and tarping and chainsaw work, and we do a lot of feeding. The kitchen sitting right out front here (parked outside FBC’s Family Life Center) has the capability of doing thousands and thousands of meals a day.”

Disaster relief efforts are not exclusive to Mayfield right now, either. Hickey said the Illinois unit is currently in Benton, the Missouri unit is in Dawson Springs and Princeton and the North Carolina unit is in Bowling Green.

“We’re bound together through the Southern Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board, and we co-op with each other,” Hickey said. “If you need help, you call. … We go through training, and we provide everything from child care, cooking, chainsawing, tarping, flood recovery, chaplaincy, even down to schools if they need chaplaincy because of a disaster.

Inman said FBC’s Family Life Center on South Fourth Street is housing most of the volunteers, and a few more are in the main church building next door. He said that when the Family Life Center, which was completed and opened in 2018, was being designed, the church wanted it to be able to host a group this large in case of a disaster in the area.

“One of the reasons they’re here is because we’re one of the very few facilities that could accommodate what they need to do,” Inman said. “They’ve got lots of cooks in the kitchen, but there are people sleeping everywhere and they’ve got room for the command stations where they can set up offices. We’ve only got four showers, but when they bring in (the mobile shower unit), that helps. A lot of places just don’t have this kind of facility, and (the design) was triggered by the 2009 ice storm. This church just didn’t have the facility and some of the practical things that could help people (at that time), so when we needed this building, we said, ‘Let’s build it in such a way that when we do have emergencies, (we can handle it). So our kitchen is American Red Cross-certified.”

Hickey said the volunteers expect to be in Murray for quite some time, not only assisting with the immediate relief and cleanup efforts but possibly having other volunteers help with rebuilding efforts.

“They’ve built this facility for this purpose, and it’s unbelievable how gracious this church is,” Hickey said. “There’s not a lot of places in Mayfield that can accommodate the numbers of people we have. There may come a point where churches start coming in to help rebuild, so this facility could be used off and on for months.”

Inspiritus is another nonprofit group being hosted at FBC. Sherry Buresh, director of disaster relief programs for Inspiritus, has worked for various organizations over the years and assisted after an earthquake in Nepal, flash floods in Peru, forest fires around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Hurricane Katrina and many other disasters. She said Inspiritus had previously done longterm recovery but hired her two years ago to start a disaster program. She said the organization mostly focuses on the Southeast, and the Mayfield tornado is the 16th response effort since the program began. However, Buresh said it is the 89th disaster to which she has responded in her career.

“I live in Berea, Kentucky, and that’s (one reason I’m here),” she said. “This is my state. I’ve got to be here to help. We’re talking right now about the potential for doing long-term recovery and being here for a while – both here and across the state line in Dresden, Tennessee.”

Buresh said Inspiritus is set up at the Graves County Health Department and working with a water purification system to provide clean water for first responders and the community. Buresh said the Rothrock Foundation is also at FBC providing food for the Inspiritus volunteers.

Another organization currently at FBC is the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which was founded to honor the sacrifice of Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller on Sept. 11, 2001. On that fateful morning, Siller drove toward Manhattan, parked his truck at the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he gave his life while saving others. Foundation board member Jack Oehm, a retired battalion chief from the New York City Fire Department, and Tom McDonough, director of disaster relief for the foundation, said they would be giving away toys today at the Mayfield Shopping Plaza on the south side of town. Both men are residents of Staten Island.

“Our main mission as a foundation is to always remember 9/11 and to support our catastrophically injured veterans, our fallen first responders and our Gold Star families,” McDonough said. “We have been involved in disaster relief in the past. It’s not part of our usual mission, but these events were so damaging that we knew we had to get involved. Our plan here initially is to do toy distribution and basically a barbecue. We feel it’s essential to give parents a stress-free day and take care of the kids a little bit and take care of the parents as well. This is the first step of many. We’re going to be involved in recovery efforts for as long as our resources last, and we expect it to be a multi-million dollar program. We want to have as much of an effect as possible on Kentucky, Tennessee and all the states hit by this terrible tornado.” 

This story used by permission of the Murray Ledger.

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