MIDDLETOWN, N.J. (BP) — Election Day dawned with Hurricane Sandy storm survivors voting in tents — along with a reminder of the preparation of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. Prior to Sandy’s landfall, SBDR area commander Mark Gauthier reminded state DR leaders to make sure deploying volunteers voted absentee before they traveled to begin ministry.
The day also brought continued meal preparation at more than 16 locations and increased mud-out jobs, with more requests mounting. The previous day, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie commended yellow-shirted Baptist volunteers in Middletown, N.J.
North American Mission Board DR executive director Fritz Wilson, meanwhile, said the Sandy response will continue well into the new year.
Middletown has become one of the hubs of SBDR ministry where volunteers, primarily from Oklahoma thus far, are being hosted by New Monmouth Baptist Church and pastor Mike Miller.
“This is an unusual operation,” said Dave Karr, on-site coordinator for the Middletown response. “Things have not progressed the way they normally do in a disaster setting. Local people are finding their way to shelters and the church members here are finding out what they need. The local shelters have told us how many meals they need and the church members are delivering the meals to the shelters.”
Karr, a six-year DR veteran, is accompanied by some 90 Oklahoma SBDR volunteers to operate a three-station kitchen capable of preparing 35,000 meals a day, a shower unit, a laundry unit, three chain saw units and a mud-out unit. Karr, a member of Bethel Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., said nothing has been typical about this response.
Karr and his team received word Monday that Gov. Christie would be visiting a nearby firehouse. “We decided we’d take a look,” Karr said.
“We were standing in the back when one of his aides gathered us up and moved us to the front of the crowd,” Karr recounted. “Gov. Christie said, ‘Ah, my friends with disaster relief.’ He thanked us for our service. I told him that we are here to serve and what our kitchens were capable of preparing. I told him we were ready to help in any way we can.”
NAMB President Kevin Ezell also was in New Jersey Monday as well as New York. He visited SBDR volunteers, thanking them for their service. He also toured parts of New York that took the brunt of Sandy’s fury.
“We walked through areas of Staten Island where some people lost their lives. Others lost all of the material possessions they had,” Ezell said. “It reminded me that the things of this world are temporary and can be gone in a moment. It also reminded me why the work of SBDR volunteers is so important. We relieve the temporary physical suffering by helping with meals and other immediate needs. But we also bring the long-term healing and hope that only comes through a relationship with Christ.” Ezell prayed with volunteers and thanked them for their efforts.
“They’ve left the comforts of home to make life a little better for storm survivors,” Ezell said. “It is so good to know in times of great need, you can count on Southern Baptists for acts of great service.”
On Monday night Graffiti Church in Manhattan hosted more than 100 people for homeowner flood and mold recovery training led by SBDR response coordinator Randy Creamer, who will continue to hold community training sessions in churches throughout New York and New Jersey.
At Middletown, while the Oklahoma DR team is being housed at New Monmouth Baptist Church, the actual kitchens and units are set up in the parking lot of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church across the street. “I think it is great that it shows we can work together to help people in need,” Karr said.
“Pastor Miller at New Monmouth has been great. He told us the church is ours; use it however we need it. He did say he’d like to use it for a little while on Sundays,” Karr joked.
By Karr’s estimate, New Monmouth will be a center of SBDR activity for the foreseeable future. With the ramp-up to recovery in full swing, he expects volunteers will remain engaged in ministry for a long time.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or, via the Web, contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund at namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).