Every day more than 300 NC Baptist Men and women volunteers are deployed across New Jersey and New York in response to Superstorm Sandy’s pounding of coastal areas there Oct. 29, which caused some 100 deaths and widespread destruction from high winds, high tides and record-setting floods.
Wrecked houses and fractured lives still abound along the hard-hit coastal area three weeks after Sandy blew through with 80-mph winds; thousands of homes were still without electricity.
“This is their Katrina,” one Baptist volunteer said, referring to the hurricane which destroyed much of New Orleans and the Gulf shore in 2005.
N.C. Baptist Men sent three of their field kitchens and within a week they produced well over 300,000 hot meals that were mostly delivered by Red Cross workers to storm victims.
The Manna One unit was set up on a sports complex that includes a stadium and the Meadowlands horse racing track in Rutherford, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
The new Unit 2, which includes enclosed work areas, was set up on a parking lot of Rutgers University at Piscataway, N.J., near the hard-hit Jersey coast and just south of battered Staten Island.
A third unit was set up at First Baptist Church in the coastal town of Toms River, N.J.
Volunteers were forced to stop work and batten down their units Nov. 7 when a nor’easter brought high winds and up to six inches of snow. They resumed operations Nov. 8. Working in snow amid bone-chilling temperatures was new for most volunteers.
N.C. Baptist volunteers set up shower and laundry units inside the mammoth convention center at Atlantic City, N.J., where hundreds of people left homeless by Sandy’s floods were housed.
Teams were sent to Graffiti Center at Manhattan’s Lower East Side to clear mud from flooded homes in the area.
Volunteers set up a command center at Lumberton, N.J., in Southside Baptist Church, for the highly complex task of coordinating placement of volunteers, equipment and housing. They are coordinating N.C. operations with volunteers from other Baptist state conventions, Red Cross and other helping agencies.
By Nov. 16 replacement teams were relieving volunteers who had been working over the past week.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Some of the North Carolina Baptist Men are at the Meadowlands Racetrack, part of a big sports/entertainment complex at East Rutherford, N.J., just across the water from New York City. Washing food trays after meals have been cooked and delivered are, left, Birgit Dilgert, a member of Second Baptist Church, Rutherfordton; Roxanne Terry, also of Second Baptist; and Lawrence Bolin, a member of Chapel Grove Baptist Church in Gastonia. See photo gallery at here.
Fewer meals were needed as areas recovered electrical service. Richard Brunson issued appeals for volunteers for recovery efforts that included clearing trees, removing mud and debris from flooded homes and clearing houses of ruined contents and trim so they can be rebuilt.
“We will be needing clean-up recovery volunteers for some time, at least six months,” said Brunson, executive director of N.C. Baptist Men.
Some volunteers were seeing potential beyond 2013. “Working here in the North is helping open the way for Baptists in one of our neediest mission fields,” said Terry Barnes, blue hat site commander of the Toms River field kitchen.
“God can take something bad, this storm, and turn it into something that’s awesome, because now, if we will be obedient, we can come in and share the gospel with people because we are helping them – people who would normally be closed to us,” said Barnes, a member of Crestview Baptist Church in Lenoir.
Walk into the command center for N.C. Baptist Men in Lumberton, N.J., and there’s not much to see.
A handful of volunteers sit around a big table strewn with laptops, cell phones and chargers, notebooks. Charts and maps line the walls.
But stand there a minute and you’ll begin to sense the tension and pressure in the air. Site commander Steve Reavis talks to a church in another town – do they have room for volunteers to sleep?
Sharon Chilton-Moser from the Mt. Airy area pilots her laptop and talks on her cell phone. JoAnn Peyton and Ruth C. Lewter juggle lists on two laptops. Peyton is a member of Wake Forest Baptist Church in Wake Forest; Lewter is a member of Antioch Baptist Church in Chapel Hill.
These command center volunteers are coordinating hundreds of volunteers, who are constantly coming and going to half a dozen locations across New Jersey and New York. One of the biggest challenges has been finding places to house volunteers in an area where evangelical churches of any kind are scarce. Many non-Baptist churches have been willing to provide facilities.
These volunteers were the front-line advance team; they made their way into New Jersey on Oct. 29 as Sandy came ashore. Their caravan of vehicles passed over bridges that were closed soon afterwards by worsening weather.
The electricity was off in Lumberton for a time; they used generators to keep cell phones and laptops going as they began clearing the way for incoming volunteers.
“We are just so glad we were able to provide this kind of service to the volunteers,” said Fernando Downs, pastor of Southside.
“Volunteers who come up here from North Carolina will need to be prepared for snow and cold weather,” said Reavis, a member of Grove Park Baptist Church in Burlington.
“There is obviously a great need to help these people who have lost electricity and need help with everything from fallen trees to mudouts. I think it’s imperative that we help them meet those needs and also have a chance to share the love of Christ with some new people,” he said.
Clean bodies and clothes
In downtown Atlantic City, a few blocks from the glittering casinos, just beyond the outlet stores, is the Atlantic City Convention Center, a sprawling, cavernous complex the size of eight football fields laid side by side.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Jerry Collins and Iris Carter fold and bag washed clothes, ready to return to local people who have taken shelter here. They are part of an eight-person team from Long Branch Baptist Church in Lumberton serving at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J.
During the first week after Sandy, hundreds of area residents left homeless by flooding were housed here. On one side of the hall, hundreds of cots were set up; in the middle, children played soccer. Police officers maintained tight security.
In one corner, N.C. Baptists had set up a shower unit and a field Laundromat to provide showers and clean clothes for the victims.
At one table Jerry Collins and Iris Carter folded clothes that had been washed and dried; a hand-marked strip of tape tracked the clothes from the washer to the dryer and then to a plastic bag for storage. The bags carried hand-written Bible verses and smiley faces.
Semi-retired from his job with Wal-Mart in Pembroke, Collins said he is really happy he was able to come help in Atlantic City.
It was the first such expedition away from Lumberton for Carter; she was touched by how appreciative the people were to have their clothes washed.
Collins and Carter were part of an eight-member team from Long Branch Baptist Church in Lumberton.
Gail Fields stood by the bank of a dozen or so washers and dryers in the laundry trailer, waiting for the next load – one of the more than 60 laundry loads she has worked on each day. Now a widow, she was making her first missions trip. “I like it!” she declared. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ll be ready to go next time something comes up,” she said firmly.
Site coordinator David Seymour showed off a bank of electric water heaters that assured the shower unit of hot water. Safety concerns did not allow their usual gas heaters to be used inside the convention center, so Seymour worked hours with the maintenance staff to get a bank of electric heaters set up and functioning.
Seymour lives in Waxhaw, and is a member of Mount Harmony Baptist Church in Matthews. Seymour helped launch the idea of providing laundry cleaning as a ministry; he and his wife operated the first one in New York following 9/11.
Chaplaincy worker Myra Kanipe spent hours talking to storm victims from Atlantic City and nearby communities such as Egg Harbor, Jersey Shore and Margate.
Some victims had taken shelter in the convention center because their houses were destroyed; others said their homes were still standing but cold because they do not have electrical service. Outside, snow and sleet fell.
“Their main concern is not getting answers,” she said. “Some have lost everything and they are just wondering how they can replace it. Many have lost hope.”
Kanipe, a member of East Belmont Baptist Church in Belmont, said, “We just try to comfort them. We tell them there are channels of help. We tell them to try to trust in the Lord, the One who can help them through it all.”
She was able to share the gospel with several victims and prayed with them to receive Christ as Savior. She also talked to some who said they were already Christians who wanted to rededicate their lives to Him.
Hot meals to victims
Main Street in Toms River, N.J., is usually a quiet street, mostly residential.
But in the parking lot behind First Baptist Church, a team of 47 Baptist volunteers, men and women, worked at a feverish pace on Nov. 8 to prepare thousands of meals that would have left several McDonalds in the dust.
“We had to shut down yesterday (Nov. 7) because of the snowstorm but we are preparing 5,000 meals for tonight,” said Terry Barnes, blue hat site commander.
Volunteers worked through the night to keep snow from accumulating on their tents and collapsing them; they ran heaters wide open all night. Still they began the day by shoveling snow off the paved parking lot. They improvised a snowplow by fitting a piece of plywood onto a forklift.
“This is unique. I started in disaster relief right after (Hurricane) Hugo (1989) and I never worked in the snow before,” Barnes said.
“We have made history!” proclaimed long-term volunteer Robert Stroup. “We have cooked in the snow!” He is a member of First Baptist Church in Spruce Pine.
Unlike McDonalds, today’s meals will include hamburger steaks, vegetables and mashed potatoes. They will be loaded into covered plates, then into insulated containers called cambros, staged on platforms under tents for pickup by 20 Red Cross vehicles and delivery to storm victims in the area.
Bundled against the cold and working under a tent open on the sides, Jo Nakamura and May Bouboulis worked quickly to unpack frozen hamburger patties, place them on trays and get them into a bank of ovens. Nakamura is a member of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Boone; Bouboulis is a member of Howards Creek Baptist Church in Boone.
Carson Pittman of State Line ran the ovens, periodically checking the temperature on the burgers to make sure they cooked completely. Pittman is a member of First Baptist Church in Elkin.
Terry Barnes praised the volunteers for their hard work and sweet spirits. “Their commitment is amazing,” he said. He himself worked for two days non-stop without sleep to get the operation going.
“It has been wonderful,” said Amos Helmsley, a member of Northbrook Baptist Church in Cherryville.
He said he found himself showing new Red Cross workers how to secure loads in their trucks to avoid mishaps.
“It gives us a chance to help those who have suffered and to minister to them,” said volunteer Lanny Stewart, a member of Mount Herman Baptist Church in Taylorsville. He has done similar projects in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, plus at several locations in North Carolina.
Volunteer Wayne Beane drove the bus which brought 29 volunteers to serve in Toms River. He is a member of Mulvale Baptist Church in Lenoir.
“Serving like this gives us satisfaction,” said volunteer Eddie Dew. “They can see Jesus through you and it lets them know God loves them. A lot of people don’t know that until somebody comes around and shows them,” he added.
Volunteer Earl Johnson was one of two men who came from Oxford, Miss., to serve. He recalled how thousands of North Carolina Baptists came to help the Gulfport, Miss., area after Katrina.
“It has been a blessing to do this! Praise God!” said Richard Winters, a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Cherryville.
Racing to help storm victims
It was mid-afternoon in Rutherford, N.J. on Nov. 8 – Woody Tucker and his 35 North Carolina volunteers were delivering the last of 12,000 hot meals in insulated containers to Red Cross workers for delivery to storm victims in the area.
The portable kitchen and related materials were set up beside the stables of Meadowlands Racetrack, a horse racing track that is part of a sports complex that includes a sports stadium and an auditorium.
“It’s a great location. We have plenty of room and on a clear night we can look over across the water (Hudson River) and see Manhattan,” said Tucker.
The Meadowlands management has provided free meals to the volunteers and allowed them to stay in one of their buildings.
Outside, bundled against a chilling breeze, several volunteers scrubbed trays for the next day’s work.
Volunteer Lawrence Bolin kept the others entertained with stories about his missions trips to Africa. Roxanne Terry joined Birgit Dilgert and her daughter, Janice, as they scrubbed trays. They all are from Second Baptist Church in Rutherfordton.
As they scrubbed, Red Cross workers were in the Sandy-ravaged areas, handing out the hot meals prepared by the volunteers: chicken fillets, mashed potatoes and green beans.
The next day would be longer: They have been asked to provide 22,000 meals.
Food and help to hard-hit coast
As evening fell on Nov. 8, site commander Paul Hooker was happy with the 4,000 meals his 60 volunteers from Region 5 in North Carolina prepared today.
He was also happy with the new Unit 2 portable kitchen they were using; the enclosed tent side units were especially welcome because of the cold. The operation was set up in a parking lot near the golf course of Rutgers University, a few miles from New Jersey’s hard-hit coastal area and just south of Staten Island.
Here, too, the team had to stop working and batten down their facilities for the high winds and snowfall brought by the nor’easter storm, then restart operations this morning.
“We have a lot of first-time volunteers, but they’re doing a great job,” said Hooker, who is pastor of New Vision Fellowship in Madison.
“We are getting feedback from our recovery people out in the field. There are wide areas where people do not have electricity and lots of people who have not gotten any help. There are some areas even the Red Cross workers are not allowed to go in yet, because it’s so dangerous,” said Hooker.
Volunteers took some of the last cambros packed with hot meals out to an emergency truck from the nearby city of New Brunswick. Other volunteers began the usual task of cleaning and sterilizing food trays for use the next day.
Assessment workers Elmer and Barbara Farlow returned after talking to people in Keansburg, N.J., a city right on the coast. Here the storm broke through a levee and allowed a tidal surge of water four feet high to pour through; it took out much of the first two blocks of the town.
“Nobody had power. There was no heat. It is really a sad situation,” said Barbara. She and her husband are members of Crossover Community Church in High Point.
“At one house we visited, a young woman was sitting on the front porch; she said she was waiting for FEMA. She had been sitting there for days. Her cell phone had gotten wet and so didn’t work. She was a single mom of five.
“She had no heat because she was afraid to turn on the gas stove because she thought it might blow up. Elmer went in and got her heating system going. She cried on our shoulder. She told us about her son, age 14. During the storm, water was surging down the river like a whitewater river. He tied an extension cord around his waist while he went out into the street and rescued three people, one of whom was a pregnant lady,” Barbara Farlow said.
“The people are really discouraged because the power is not coming on as soon as they wanted it to. A lot of them are staying with their houses because they’re afraid of looting. They don’t want to go to a shelter where there are many people,” she said.
“They feel like they’ve been forgotten,” Elmer added. He thinks ministering to needs now might open the way to start new churches here later.
Assessment volunteers like the Farlows open the way for later volunteer teams. They cover the area and identify high-needs residents, such as senior citizens. They spent two days in the coastal town of Sayreville, N.J., just south of Staten Island, another hard-hit area.
Although the people here are eager for help, they are suspicious of Baptist volunteers. Why, they ask, would someone come so far to offer free help? “People up here are not as familiar with us as they are in the South,” Elmer said. “There’s not a Baptist church on every corner like back home.”
Inside the command center vehicle, volunteer Charles Aultman said he found lots of suspicions when they offered to help. “They think we want money,” he said. He is a member of Lambreth Memorial Baptist Church in Roxboro.
Most of Aultman’s time has been inside, working on reports and clearing the way for volunteers. He was rejoicing because he had just talked with members of a Methodist church willing to house and feed volunteers. In disaster relief, that’s the kind of victory that will lead to others down the road.
To contribute, make check payable to NCBM, designated for Disaster Relief, and mail to N.C. Baptist Men, Baptist State Convention of NC, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512.