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Miss. Baptist meal preparations key part of post-Georges relief

BILOXI, Miss. (BP)–Even before Hurricane Georges made its unerring way from the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Mississippi, Baptists in the state were making ready for the disaster.
A number of churches and associations opened their doors to refugees evacuated from Gulf Coast areas.
As the eye of Georges made landfall near the border between Mississippi and Alabama on Sept. 28, the Mississippi Baptist disaster relief unit commandeered the kitchen at Midway Baptist Church, Jackson, on Sept. 28-29 to prepare meals for evacuees who were staying in metro area.
The unit then redeployed to Jackson County after the worst of the storm had passed and was operational by lunch on Sept. 29 in the parking lot of First Baptist Church, Pascagoula.
The activation marked the third time the unit was sent to Pascagoula in the 20 years of Mississippi Baptist disaster relief ministry.
Earlier dispatches to Pascagoula were after Hurricane Elena in 1979 and Hurricane Frederic in 1985.
The centerpiece of the unit, operated by a trained task force, is a mobile field kitchen capable of producing thousands of hot meals each day.
The unit, housed in an 18-wheeler, served approximately 6,000 hot meals the first three days of operation — served by hand to individuals who came to the unit.
After that, most meals were placed into large portable containers and delivered into the neighborhoods by American Red Cross vehicles.
On Sept. 30 the 12 task force members on duty, assisted by local volunteers, served 2,600 hot meals from 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. without a moment’s break.
One secular news reporter called the response of Mississippi Baptists to Hurricane Georges, “a godsend.”
A hurricane victim told Baptist volunteers that without a hot meal from Baptists, for the third day she would have been eating potted meat again.
Interviewed as they waited their turn in line, dozens of victims reported water damage to their homes. “Thank God, no one was hurt,” were the words of many.
Tell Baptists, said a member of another denomination eating at the unit, the disaster ministry is “well worth their tithe.”
“I think a lot of miracles happened,” said Dot Simmons, secretary for Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Gulfport. “You could see a lot of trees fell between houses rather than on them. How could they miss?”
Tongue-and-groove boards from a tin-roofed business in Pascagoula spiked through the home of one local resident. Propelled by a tornado whelped by Georges, the boards imbedded themselves in the roof, the walls and five feet into the yard. No one was injured.
As of Oct. 5, at least 32,751 hot meals had been served from four units of Baptist disaster relief response.
Besides the main unit, the mobile kitchen from Enterprise Baptist Church, Enterprise, was set up at Woolmarket Baptist Church, Biloxi. Those volunteers served from Sept. 30-Oct. 5.
A unit from Holmes Baptist Association in Lexington set up at Grace Memorial Baptist Church, Gulfport, and served from Sept. 30-Oct. 3.
The Mississippi Baptist disaster relief ministry works in concert with the American Red Cross and local Baptist entities in determining the locations of greatest need after a disaster.
Paul Harrell, Mississippi Brotherhood director and off-site disaster relief coordinator, said that as repair was begun on water-damaged portions of First Baptist Church, Pascagoula, the main disaster relief unit was moved to First Baptist Church, Gautier.
Jim Didlake, consultant in the Mississippi Baptist Brotherhood department and on-site coordinator for disaster relief, said the unit would likely be cooking meals through the weekend of Oct. 10-11.
A total of 150 church volunteers had served on the various disaster relief units as of Oct. 5, in addition to 38 task force members and another 17 non-task force members involved in food services.
Harrell reported that clean-up and recovery operations were under way with 38 volunteers in Jackson County and about 50 in Gulf Coast Baptist Association.
Harrell said Jackson County was in need of additional clean-up crews, particularly to clean flooded homes, remove debris from yards, and repair roofing. In Gulf Coast Baptist Association the need was mainly for roofers.
Harrell said a crew of professional loggers from Brookhaven’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church went into Jackson County. It was estimated that the loggers donated $50,000 worth of tree removal. The loggers included Dwayne Neese and his sons Cecil and Lee.
Harrell said he sent $1,000 immediately to Pearl River, Gulf Coast and Jackson Baptist associations for discretionary use in disaster response.

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  • Tim Nicholas