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Retired educator dons ‘blue hat’ as disaster relief coordinator

COVINGTON, La. (BP)–Upon his retirement as a high school principal, Dempsey Haymon knew he wanted to help with disaster relief.

“I told the man in charge, ‘Look, I want to go work. I don’t want to be responsible for anything. I just want to go stir a pot,’” Haymon said. “Well, it hasn’t worked out that way.”

It hasn’t worked out that way because Haymon’s job with disaster relief involves much more than stirring a pot. As site director, or “blue hat,” for the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief center at First Baptist Church in Covington, La., Haymon is responsible for overseeing everything from food preparation to chainsaw crews.

The church became the temporary home for hundreds of volunteers who came to Covington to help provide services to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Sunday School classrooms served as bedrooms, as some volunteers slept on air mattresses or pallets on the floor.

A member of Siloam Baptist Church in Many, La., Haymon arrived in Covington Aug. 30. At its height, the Covington disaster relief center was preparing about 17,000 meals a day. Red Cross workers took the food to 10 shelters in the Covington area, and the cooking crews also provided meals for all the chainsaw workers staying on site –- as many as 200 people at one time.

A shower unit in the parking lot also was available for local residents who needed a place to clean up.

Boxes of supplies filled the church parking lot, and Haymon said at night people often dropped off donations of all kinds.

“You never know what you’ll find in the morning,” he said.

The day begins at 4:30 a.m. for Haymon and other volunteers who rise to begin breakfast preparation for the volunteers staying on site. In addition to cooking 60 dozen scrambled eggs and 250 biscuits, the team also brews 400 cups of coffee.

Work has slowed down at the Covington site, as chainsaw crews have completed their work and the demand for food and other services has declined. Fortunately for Covington residents, their town wasn’t as badly damaged as other places, like Slidell.

“It looks like an atomic bomb hit for miles,” Haymon said of Slidell. “It’s the most destruction I’ve seen in 16 years of doing this.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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