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Post-hurricane relief to shift from meals to long-term ministry

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–After more than two months of operation, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief meal preparations for hurricane victims in the eastern United States will shut down by the end of October, but long-term recovery and rebuild efforts remain, according to officials coordinating the unprecedented national response.

“This response compares to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which previously had been Southern Baptists’ largest response, but when you consider the logistics of it all, this was much more difficult because we had four different affronts and two evacuations, and we were able to produce in the neighborhood of 2.5 million meals,” said Jim Burton, director of the North American Mission Board’s volunteer mobilization team.

Through Oct. 20, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have prepared more than 2.4 million meals since Hurricane Charley, the first of four hurricanes to pummel Florida within a six-week period, made landfall in southwest Florida on Aug. 13.

Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne followed crisscrossing the Sunshine State leaving a swath of destruction in the billions of dollars throughout the Gulf Coast region and along the Atlantic Seaboard as far north as West Virginia.

“Southern Baptists are going to need to have a presence in these affected states for at least two years helping to put back together both churches as well as owner-occupied homes that were under-insured or non-insured,” Burton said. “We would encourage churches even now as they look toward their summer mission projects to check with Alabama and Florida to see if there are assignments they can help with in those states.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Mississippi continue working in Florida and Alabama clearing debris and installing plastic tarps on damaged roofs.

Meanwhile, two Southern Baptist feeding operations remain active. One along the Florida Panhandle at Myrtle Grove Baptist Church in Pensacola is manned by Florida Baptist volunteers. In Century, Fla., near the Alabama state line, a mobile kitchen unit from Ohio is in operation.

“They’re doing about 10,000 meals a day total,” said Terry Henderson, national disaster relief director with NAMB. “After this weekend, we should go over 2.5 million meals.”

Henderson said several communities near Century, which are largely African American and Hispanic, are still without electricity.

“There are a lot of pockets they’ve found up there that are going to be without power for an extended period of time,” he said. “A lot of people live in wooded areas, and power poles were still down a week ago when I was there.”

From mid-August through Oct. 20, more than 9,000 Southern Baptist volunteers from 38 Baptist state conventions have completed nearly 8,100 cleanup and recovery projects. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief officials estimate the value of the labor provided by volunteers at $6.9 million.

Southern Baptists prepare most of the meals distributed by the American Red Cross and are the third-largest disaster relief agency in the country behind the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

“Southern Baptists need to remember that disasters aren’t over when the cleanup ends,” Burton said. “There are emotional and financial and spiritual issues that must be addressed for years to come. As a denomination we need to be supportive of the Baptist state conventions in the affected states as they develop their long-term strategy not just of the physical rebuild but also of the emotional and spiritual rebuild.”

Burton said he also expects NAMB’s mobilization of more than 24,000 teenagers and adults each summer through World Changers mission projects will help significantly in regions hit by the hurricanes.

“The annual objective of World Changers, which is primarily the rehabilitation of substandard housing and sharing the Gospel, is going to blend well with the long-term recovery efforts of disaster relief,” he said. “I do think that World Changers is going to be part of the answer to the rebuild down there.”

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. To date, more than $550,000 has been received.

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  • Lee Weeks