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Southern Baptists dispute media reports & blogger claims as ‘absolute falsehood’ that disaster relief teams withheld water

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–No thirsty person went without water, and no water went to waste, Tim Bridges, pastor of First Baptist Church in Clewiston, Fla., said in response to media reports that claimed differently when a shipment of water distributed by Anheuser-Busch caused confusion Oct. 28.

The inaccurate information also is circulating among Web bloggers.

Keith Hinson, public relations associate for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said, “It is an absolute falsehood to suggest —- as many irresponsible bloggers have —- that the Baptist volunteers withheld the basic needs of life from Floridians impacted by the hurricane. Contrary to misinterpretations of news reports, no one was denied access to water.”

Alabama Baptist disaster relief volunteers set up a feeding unit in Clewiston Oct. 26 following Hurricane Wilma’s swipe across Florida Oct. 24.

From the site, meals are cooked and distributed in the community by the Red Cross or through feeding lines on-site.

Bottles of water are not necessarily a guarantee at these sites, said Vernon Lee, who was in charge of the feeding unit Oct. 29–Nov. 3. “We don’t hand out commodities like ice, water, etc.,” said Lee, a member of White Springs Baptist Church in Rainbow City, Ala. “We just cook.”

But if water is available, then the volunteers give it out, he noted.

When the Anheuser-Busch truck arrived, the Red Cross officials allowed the water to be unloaded even though the area was not designated as a distribution site, Lee explained.

Volunteers cooking and handing out food were a mixture of Alabama Baptists; members of First Baptist; and Red Cross volunteers.

The Anheuser-Busch logo on the cans of water “was huge” and bothersome to some of the Clewiston church volunteers, Bridges said. “I didn’t want to send out a mixed message.

“All that was said was that First Baptist Church [Clewiston] people would not be the ones handing it out,” he explained. “We didn’t refuse the water. Others were giving it out.

“We were handing out water [supplied by Southern Baptists] hand over fist,” Bridges said.

He noted that Wal-Mart across the street had water, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was set up next to Wal-Mart with water to give away and the city’s civic center nearby was distributing ice and water. So, even if the water at First Baptist in Clewiston had run out, people were not going without water.

But the non-Anheuser-Busch water did not run out, Lee said. “I would have no problem giving the people the [Anheuser-Busch water] if they were thirsty but they were not thirsty.” In fact, he said the original supply of water, including the Anheuser-Busch water, lasted through the morning of Nov. 2.

“There was water for them to take … and the opportunity to get [the Anheuser-Busch] water if they wanted it because it was made available,” Lee said, noting he thinks most people prefer bottled water to canned water anyway.

Both Lee and Bridges emphasized that no one went without water and it is unfortunate that the local media misunderstood the facts.

“We are preparing upwards of 12,000 meals a day,” Lee said. “The city is tickled to death to have us here. We have received cards and letters from people who come through the line, thanking us.

“It is sad for us to take a black eye over something that was silly,” he said. “But if the First Baptist Church [in Clewiston] and the people in this town are happy, then we’ve done our job.”

“All of our folks have worked as hard as they could,” Bridges added. “It was an awkward moment as we were getting set up and the Busch water came into the picture.”

But to clarify all the inaccurate reports, “there was plenty of water available,” Bridges emphasized, and “no one was turned away.”
Jennifer Davis Rash is managing editor of The Alabama Baptist, online at www.thealabamabaptist.org.

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