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Baptists feeding Florence survivors, preparing for flood recovery work


LUMBERTON, N.C.—Cars stretched from Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, N.C., down Highway 211 waiting to receive hot meals in a makeshift drive-thru set up by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in the church's parking lot.

Volunteers with the North Carolina Baptists on Mission, who comprise North Carolina's SBDR outreach, along with volunteers from churches in town, cooked and distributed meals to residents, many of whom lost everything during Hurricane Florence.

Some of the volunteers like Hyde Park member Donna DiChiara likewise endured severe damage to their homes.

Glenn Hickey, of First Baptist Church of Monticello, as among the chaplains from Kentucky serving in Jacksonville, N.C., last week.

"This storm, my whole yard was ... worse than a swimming pool; it looked like the river," DiChiara said. "Underneath my house, it was flooded to the sub-flooring. Then all of my air conditioning is out, plus the duct work is down, full of water."

Jeff Blackburn, Hyde Park's lead pastor, could gauge the severity of the storm by comparing church members' reactions to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, saying that he saw concern on their faces in 2016 but "desperation in their eyes" following Hurricane Florence.

"We have had serious flooding all over the community. At least half of our congregation is displaced, trying to find a place to live," Blackburn said.

Blackburn surmised that at least 200 volunteers from Hyde Park and other churches were serving and that at least a third of those volunteers were now homeless or living with other family members.

"What's amazing is that even when their lives are upside down, they're still out there serving, which says a lot about their compassion and commitment to this community," Blackburn said.

In Jacksonville, N.C., a team of Kentucky Baptist DR volunteers was seeing much the same in their church's parking lot. The feeding crew, led by Karen Smith, of Shepherdsville, began feeding out of Catalyst Church on Wednesday, Sept. 19, seeing cars and families needing assistance quickly line up there.

"We continue to have long lines of people coming to the kitchen desperately needing food. Many had not had a hot meal in days before our kitchen began serving," said Smith, a member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. "The need is great!"

"They are preparing around 10,000 meals today (Friday), and this will continue into next week," said Coy Webb, director of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief. "Our chaplains have ministered to almost 600 families in the last three days, and assessment teams are out today with homeowners," he added. 

More help is on the way, as chainsaw, roof tarping, and flood recovery teams from Kentucky are heading to Jacksonville over the weekend, Webb said.

"Initial assessments indicate that our teams will find scores of extremely large trees down, many of them as large as 36 inches in diameter, and many homes damaged by wind and flooding," said flood recovery leader Charles Castle, of Wittensville.

"We plan to hit the ground busy cutting trees, tarping roofs, and beginning flood clean-up," added Castle, a member of First Baptist Church of Paintsville.

But widespread flooding has blocked many roads, making it difficult for volunteers, food and supplies to reach affected areas, and that has created a lot of anxiety in many communities.

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers Hershel Sparks, holding tray, and Suzy Way prepare meals in a mobile kitchen for residents of the Carolinas who were hit hard by Hurricane Florence. Behind them are Mitch Barret and Tom Hindbaugh.

Like other SBDR feeding teams, the Kentucky volunteers are serving food to those who can drive up, and they are packing meals into American Red Cross vehicles for other deliveries.

The National Guard is using high-water vehicles to help carry supplies and SBDR-prepared hot meals to residents who are cut off by deeper floodwaters.

Blackburn praised the disaster relief team that is helping his church serve its neighbors. "I'm glad that (they) are here and that we have a shared vision together to see Jesus transform the hearts and lives of people in this community."

Wesley Hammond, the leader of a DR team from Missouri, emphasized how huge disaster relief responses like this one in North and South Carolina take cooperation across many levels of Southern Baptist life.

Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church in Paris, Mo., told a North American Mission Board reporter how Bethel Baptist Church in Berea, Ky., had housed his team for a night during their long drive from Missouri.

Bethel Baptist built a facility designed to house disaster relief volunteers, and the church's hospitality blessed Hammond and his team so that they could show up ready to work, he said.

"As we've come in to North Carolina, the church here, Poston Baptist Church, was already trying to do the ministry in the community themselves," Hammond said. "As they were ministering to the community, we were able to come in, and they saw us as the group of people who were there to lift them up and help carry the burden."

As of Friday, Sept. 21, according to NAMB reports, mobile food kitchens and shower units have allowed Southern Baptist volunteers to provide more than 200,000 hot meals; 5,200 cases of water; 2,000 showers and 715 crisis buckets to residents in the Carolinas, many of whom were still without power or clean water.

Teams from Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and South Carolina are among those participating in the feeding and recovery efforts so far. SBDR will accelerate its recovery efforts in the coming weeks as many homes in coastal areas still remain underwater.

Active feeding sites currently include the cities of Wilmington, Kinston, Hope Mills, Jacksonville, Lumberton and Wallace in North Carolina, and Conway and Florence in South Carolina.

To donate funds for national or state convention DR work in North Carolina or otherwise get involved in Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, visit namb.net/Florence. (BP/WR)

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