Some 60 men and women volunteers were manning the mobile food preparation unit, set up at a vacant lot in downtown Williamston Aug. 31. The volunteers prepared 11,652 meals on Aug. 30, said John Gore, the "white hat" incident commander overseeing the food ministry.
"We had no power when we arrived Sunday, but they got it back later," said Gore, a member of Greenwood Baptist Church in Thomasville. He said most meals were being distributed in and around Williamston by the American Red Cross, operating a fleet of emergency response trucks.
Volunteers packed individual meals in Styrofoam boxes, with the boxes placed in insulated containers so most people would get warm meals.
Hundreds of meals also were served to local people, many of whom were still without electricity. "Bless you!" one grateful woman said as she accepted two box lunches of hamburger steak, lima beans, mixed fruit, bread and cookies, along with either tea or punch.
Several of the volunteers were members of nearby Memorial Baptist Church, where many volunteers were staying and where phones were being manned to handle the intense behind-the-scenes coordination required to keep people, supplies and multiple response organizations functioning smoothly.
Gore said more volunteers were expected to arrive in Williamston from across North Carolina and 40 or 50 Baptist volunteers from Arkansas. Methodists and Roman Catholics offered to house volunteers, plus one local person offered a vacant store equipped with air conditioning and bathrooms for visiting volunteers to use.
Many of the volunteers in Williamston were from western North Carolina, recalling how coastal Baptists came to their aid in 2005 when heavy floods struck wide areas of the western part of the state. Jo Davidson, for example, is a member of Ellijay Missionary Baptist Church, just upstream near the Cullasaja River where mudslides killed several people that year.
NC Baptist Men also have a major food preparation ministry under way in New Bern, recovery work in Greenville and other sites still being evaluated for future work. Baptist Men from Kentucky arrived Sept. 1 to begin helping with recovery efforts in Greenville. Baptist Men volunteers from Mississippi are helping with recovery in Ahoskie.
"We are mainly working in Martin and Bertie counties from here in Williamston," Gore said. In addition to the food ministry, some 30 other NC Baptist Men volunteers were out helping homeowners clear fallen trees in the area.
Gore went over to Washington, N.C., about 25 miles away, on Aug. 29 to welcome a 45-member team of Baptist Men from Florida who came to help with recovery.
Two days later that team was preparing up to 6,000 meals a day from a base initially set up at Second Baptist Church in Washington, said Fritz Wilson, director of disaster relief with the Florida Baptist Convention.
Most of the cooking team came from First Baptist Church in Ocala, Fla., which transported team members in one of the church's buses for the 550-mile journey. Other teams were out clearing downed trees for homeowners.
"You guys in North Carolina have driven down to help us many times over the years, so that's why we're happy we're here to help you," said Wilson, who was making his third trip to North Carolina to help with a hurricane response.
Dale Duncan, an active volunteer and former NC Baptist Men president, was on hand to help coordinate with the Florida volunteers. Duncan is a member of First Baptist Church in Spruce Pine, N.C.
Wilson said NC Baptist Men's men and women volunteers have been great partners with Florida Baptists in ongoing ministry in Haiti as well.
As boldly proclaimed on their trucks, Florida Baptists support disaster relief through their Cooperative Program giving.
NC Baptist Men, meanwhile, primarily is funded through the North Carolina Missions Offering, which is being promoted across the state in September. Meeting the NCMO goal of $2.1 million will assure that NC Baptist Men can continue to have the equipment and other resources needed to respond to disasters like Irene. Disaster relief is just one of the 14 ministries carried out by NC Baptist Men in North Carolina and beyond. To donate to NCMO, go to www.ncmissionsoffering.org or call 1-800-395-5102, ext. 5547.
Mike Creswell is the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's senior consultant for the Cooperative Program.
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