NEW BERN — When Steve Wynn serves behind the food assembly line he meets hurting people, yet he finds that being out in the community surveying damage to homes is even more overwhelming. That’s when he really gets to sit down and talk with victims of natural disasters.
“People ask what I say to them. I really don’t. I just listen,” Wynn said. “I let them tell their story.”
By day three of helping coordinate Hurricane Irene recovery efforts in New Bern, Wynn already had plenty of opportunities to listen. One woman was so upset when she came to First Baptist — where N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM) is set up with a feeding/recovery operation — she couldn’t even put into words her request. Volunteers followed up with her a few hours later and learned that her home is now condemned due to extensive water damage.
Wynn is a 15-year disaster relief volunteer with most of his experience in mass feeding. More recently he has cross-trained in recovery efforts and is coordinating those efforts in New Bern. Wynn and the volunteers serving in recovery are focusing their immediate efforts on trying to save homes from further damage. They are removing trees that have fallen on top of homes so that tarps can be placed to cover the roof before another thunderstorm rolls in.
Kim McIntyre was part of a team from River of Leland Church in Wilmington that arrived Sunday afternoon to begin helping with recovery in New Bern. She spent a lot of her time talking with the homeowners and just listening to their story.
At every job site, recovery teams try to be intentional in their efforts to share the gospel. They also give homeowners a Bible and offer to pray with them. The second home the team visited that Sunday was of a husband and wife in their 80s. That day, the husband prayed to receive Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
At one home, the team met a man who was a cancer patient and couldn’t even go in his yard. At another home they met a woman who recently broke her back. Home after home, the team met people in unique circumstances. “They were hurting and needed help,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said the homeowners were surprised that someone was willing to help and to go beyond just helping with a small task. “They were expecting us to do little things,” she said. But the team cut down trees and cleaned entire yards, whatever needed to be done.
Volunteer teams have completed about 20 job requests in the New Bern area since Sunday afternoon.
Bill Martin, coordinator for the recovery unit in Greenville, said so far NCBM volunteers have received 217 job requests from residents in Greenville and nearby communities.
As of Tuesday, more than 210,000 homes and businesses through eastern North Carolina were without power. Steve Fitzgerald, pastor of First Baptist in New Bern, was waiting for power to be turned back on in his home. A number of his church members live near the river, and their homes suffered much damage. Some church members have not left their property because trees are still blocking the roads.
Fitzgerald is an active disaster relief volunteer. He first learned about disaster relief ministry 10 years ago while living in Charleston as a stockbroker. When Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, Tennessee volunteers served meals out of the parking lot of the church where Fitzgerald attended.
Around the same time Fitzgerald suffered a business failure. “I lost everything,” he said. “I had to ask for help.” Fitzgerald said God used that to point his life in a different direction, and about two years later he answered God’s call to full-time vocational ministry. Because of that experience he better understands what it’s like for the people he has met this week who are asking for help.
NCBM leadership continues to assess needs not only in New Bern, but throughout eastern North Carolina. As a result, more “hubs” are being set up where volunteers can serve. The New Bern site, as well as Greenville, Williamston and Manteo sites, were ready Monday.
NCBM is now also working recovery units out of Kinston and Atlantic, a shower/laundry unit out of Rodanthe/Salvo, and a temporary emergency childcare unit is set up in Pamlico County. Baptist Men volunteers from Florida are helping with both recovery and feeding efforts in Washington, and Baptist Men volunteers from Mississippi are doing the same in Ahoskie. Preparations at the feeding sites begin early. By 4:30 a.m. volunteers are setting up, and by 9 a.m., 800 lunches had already been sent out from New Bern to nearby communities.
The New Bern site prepared more than 11,000 meals Tuesday, up from the 5,100 count on Monday. NCBM have prepared more than 60,000 meals this week. As additional feeding units in Washington and Ahoskie get underway, NCBM expects to feed more than 30,000 people today.
By 10:15 a.m., a group was already gathered at First Baptist in New Bern waiting to eat lunch.
For some, such as Wendy Sawyer and Bridget James, this would be their first hot meal since Friday. James said the water came into her first floor apartment, into the kitchen and bathroom, and a mold/mildew smell has taken over the home. Both women have several children to care for while they try to put their homes, and their lives, back in order.
Thousands of North Carolinians are trying to get their lives back to some sense of normalcy.
Areas of the Outer Banks are still closed to visitors, and some remain closed even to residents. More than 800 people remain at one of 13 shelters located throughout Hurricane stricken areas. Volunteers are still needed to help with disaster relief efforts. Visit baptistsonmission.org.