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Post-Charley meals & cleanup continue among Baptist ministries

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Nearly 3,500 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from 24 states have helped prepare an estimated 800,000 meals and completed more than 3,000 cleanup and recovery projects since Hurricane Charley barreled through southwest Florida on Aug. 13.

“You can’t imagine what your help means to the people who live here,” North American Mission Board President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord told volunteers Aug. 29 during his visit to a disaster relief station at McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers. “On behalf of Southern Baptists, I want to thank each of you for the time you are giving.”

Through Aug. 28, a record 206 units from across the country have helped hundreds of thousands of Floridians begin the recovery process following Hurricane Charley’s 145-mph landfall, which cut a swath of destruction from Fort Myers northeastward to South Daytona Beach.

Currently, nearly 110 units or teams are providing on-site relief and assistance by manning mobile kitchens and chainsaw crews, providing shower units, laundry services and childcare. Southern Baptists are the third-largest disaster relief agency in the country behind the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, with more than 28,000 trained volunteers on call for local, state and national emergencies.

Southern Baptist coordinators estimate as many as 4,000 recovery jobs remain. And officials with the Florida Baptist Convention have tallied 32 Southern Baptist churches damaged by the storm, including three that were destroyed.

During his visit to Fort Myers and First Baptist Church in Punta Gorda, Reccord commended the work of the Florida Baptist Convention for its coordination of the disaster relief response in the wake of Hurricane Charley. “The speed of their response was remarkable,” he said. “Their leadership and organization has made a huge difference to the victims of this storm, and their servanthood has truly been in the spirit of Christ.”

Speaking to volunteers from Florida, North Carolina and Virginia stationed at First Baptist Church in Punta Gorda, Reccord said, “We thank God for you. We are proud of you and we are praying for you.”

Reccord asked Southern Baptists to continue praying earnestly for physical, spiritual and emotional strength for the volunteers and victims.

“When it’s 95 degrees outside and you’re preparing food over a hot stove, the temperatures are almost unbearable,” he said. “We also have chainsaw crews that are out there every day, and these temperatures are really taking a toll on them. They are getting started at 5 in the morning most days just to get a jump on the heat.”

Dean O. Emery, a chaplain with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department in Lake Wales, said a wave of volunteers clad in yellow shirts has brought renewed hope to an area decimated by the wrath of Hurricane Charley.

“Southern Baptists are making a tremendous impact,” Emery said. “While our deputies were unable to take care of their own homes because of duty requirements, many were blessed in having Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crews clear their doorways, roofs and power lines in the early days. I believe God has used [this] to move my ministry as a chaplain forward five years. I wish every Southern Baptist could see what I have seen in the last two weeks.”

Mendie Hughes, a member of the Tampa-area First Baptist Church of Temple Terrace, who has volunteered with cleanup efforts in Wauchula, said she has been overwhelmed by the national response of Southern Baptists to her home state.

“After hauling limbs and branches and tree trunks to the street all morning, it was a beautiful thing to see the volunteers [from Georgia] serving us a hot meal from those red containers,” she said. “Beef stew, mashed potatoes, roll and chocolate pudding. I’ve never had food so hot from a Styrofoam container.

“Thank you for all you are doing for the people here in Florida,” Hughes continued. “The shower unit must be a real blessing to people here. It has been so hot. … Until you feel like you are going to pass out from the heat, or you’re so tired [you] want to just lay down in the grass, or you’re so thirsty your tongue is sticking to the roof of your mouth, you can’t imagine what a hot lunch, a chair and a cold drink means. Jesus sure got it right when he said, ‘If you give a cup of cold water in my name.’”

Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.
Mike Ebert contributed to this article. For regular updates on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net/dr.

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  • Lee Weeks