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N.C. town, Ky. volunteers form strong bonds in Floyd recovery

WILSON, N.C. (BP)–Kentucky Baptist disaster relief volunteers are leaving behind a grateful community when they return home Oct. 30 after serving for more than a month in flood-stricken Wilson, N.C.
“Every time that one [of the volunteers] pulls out, we stand in the parking lot and cry,” said hostess Linda Wheeler at Wilson’s First Baptist Church, which has served as headquarters for the volunteers.
More than 200 Kentucky disaster relief workers have served in North Carolina since Hurricane Floyd devastated the region in mid-September. All of the volunteers paid their own transportation, housing and related costs. Some of the volunteers were retirees, but many took time off work to volunteer. Kentucky crews served some 200,000 meals to both volunteers and victims and have cleared sticky, rancid mud out of more than 100 homes.
“If it hadn’t been for your crowd, we would have been lost,” said Tommy Owens, 44-year-old lifelong resident of Wilson. Owens, his wife and two children lost their home to floods caused by the foot of rain Hurricane Floyd dumped on the area. “Your crowd jelled the whole city.”
Kentucky crews helped bring order to a chaotic scene, said First Baptist’s Wheeler. “It was the most organized thing I have ever seen in my life.”
Feeding crews were set up and ready to feed thousands within hours of their arrival, recounted disaster relief veteran Ken Hinton of Maysville, Ky. Hinton, who took vacation from his work as a nuclear medical technician to serve, has volunteered with Kentucky Baptist disaster relief since Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992.
“When you’ve got men that have been through this so many times and they’ve trained others” the process is much smoother. Excellent equipment and solid leadership also helped to make the operation “run like a well-oiled machine,” Hinton said.
“When you go, you’ve been trained,” he said. “You know what to bring and how to react.”
Along with their professionalism, the Kentucky volunteers brought compassion and energy, Wheeler said. The volunteers were always smiling, asking what they could do to help.
“And the energy they’ve got!” she exclaimed. Volunteers rose at 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast and get a start on lunch. After a brief break to eat lunch after everyone else had been fed, they plunged into the task of preparing dinner. Their days ended late in the evening with a devotional time and preparation for the next day.
Disaster relief crews also were charged with the difficult task of removing ruined drywall, paneling, flooring and other debris from flood-damaged homes. Homeowners were often emotionally devastated from the experience of seeing everything they had worked for heaped in a soggy, shapeless mess.
“I would work awhile, and then I’d cry awhile,” said Owens, whose house was the second home “mudded-out” by Kentucky volunteers. Volunteers were as quick to comfort grieving disaster victims as they were to help clean up, stopping often to offer hugs and encouragement.
The process of cleaning out homes is a step toward emotional healing following a disaster, said Larry Koch, disaster relief associate for the Brotherhood department of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
“Once we get started in tearing up a house, people are transformed,” Koch said. “They see something getting done.”
“This happened for a purpose, and I don’t know what it is yet, but everything has a silver lining,” Owens said. Part of that silver lining may be the family-helping-family relationship that blossomed between volunteers and the community.
Wilson, which Owens describes as a strongly Christian community, was quick to embrace the volunteers and show their appreciation. Owens, who also is a member of First Baptist Church, hosted what he called a “driveway edition” North Carolina barbecue for volunteers. He purchased 200 pounds of pork chops and prepared them on a grill set up in the driveway in front of his gutted home.
“I hope they keep up what they are doing. They are some of the nicest people on earth,” Owens said. “I just want to offer a sincere ‘thank you.'”
“It was just fantastic, the welcome we got,” Hinton said.
Many of the volunteers who have already returned to Kentucky have sent notes and cards to Wheeler, thanking her for the community’s hospitality.
“This has changed our church,” Wheeler said. “Every church needs ‘pumping up’ now and then. We’re excited about everybody [in Wilson] coming back together.”
Disaster relief efforts will continue and many opportunities to help are still available. North Carolina Baptist Men director Richard Brunson is coordinating Baptist CARE, a “church to church” and “church to family” partnership. For more information, contact Brunson’s office at (919) 467-5100.

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  • Brenda Smith