"We just made ourselves available," said Doug Reeves, pastor of the Tuscaloosa church that immediately became a hub of Southern Baptist relief efforts after the April 27 tornado hit the city.
East McFarland members began preparing meals in the church kitchen for tornado victims, first responders and, soon, an influx of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers from multiple states.
"All of a sudden it just mushroomed," Reeves said.
The church began providing housing for a number of the DR crews, stretching beyond 100 volunteers several nights in its full-size gym and Sunday School classrooms.
The meal count grew, and churches from as far away as the Birmingham area began to bring in meals.
At 6 each morning, volunteers could prepare lunches of donated lunchmeat and bread.
At 6:30, breakfast was served, with Reeves resolutely using the word "hearty."
And at 6 each evening, a "dinner on the grounds" type of meal -- again, by Reeves' standards -- was served to the overnighters and to others, including a 20-student crew from Auburn University, the in-state rival to Tuscaloosa's University of Alabama, and 40 students from Louisiana State University.
The church pared back its regular activities to one Sunday service a week.
Meanwhile, Reeves was keeping track of arriving volunteer teams and tornado victims needing assistance, matching the available labor with the multitude of local requests such as chainsaw help to clear away fallen trees. Reeves is now turning the volunteer coordination over to the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association.
Reeves "improvised like no one I've ever seen and turned the church into a staging area," marveled Rick Lance, state missionary and executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Other Tuscaloosa churches that escaped tornado damage, Reeves noted, were quick to join in housing and feeding volunteers.
So far, East McFarland has housed volunteers from Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi and Kansas as well as from other parts of Alabama.
They found out about East McFarland just like local residents did, Reeves said, "just by word of mouth."
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. For information about donations to Alabama Baptists' disaster relief efforts, visit http://www.alsbom.org/feature3.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net