LAMONT, Iowa — Flood debris sitting in the sun produced a foul odor in Lamont, Iowa, a small town of 490 people about 35 miles east of Waterloo.
Some residents piled debris on the curb for sanitation workers to haul away, but they were at a loss for what to do next.
Many of the town’s senior adults and some with physical disabilities had been waiting for assistance to clean out their homes, which were damaged by floodwaters when eight inches of rain fell the evening of May 25.
The mayor of Lamont, Afred Hotchkiss, heard about Southern Baptist disaster relief at a meeting of the emergency management council in the county seat about 20 miles away. He asked if SBC workers could come to the town and help the residents who were having trouble getting assistance.
Ty Berry, disaster relief coordinator for the Baptist Convention of Iowa, responded in the affirmative, and a one-day blitz of the town was arranged for July 9. Twenty-eight workers from Oklahoma, South Carolina, Colorado and Texas converged on the town and cleaned out 11 homes.
The homeowners had signed releases giving the crews permission to remove debris and tear out damaged walls and floors down to the bare wood studs. After a power-washing, the wood was treated with a solution of bleach and water to prevent the growth of mold. The walls and floors were then ready to be re-covered and painted.
Mud was carried out in buckets and left in a pile on the curb for city workers to take to the landfill. Furnaces, water heaters and laundry appliances that were non-repairable were removed from homes.
Residents said they couldn’t believe Southern Baptists would travel from all parts of the country to work with them in their little town.
“After you go through something like (the flooding), you really appreciate it,” Hotchkiss said of the Baptists’ help. “We had water nearly as wide as a football field across our main street in town from the Lamont Creek.”
Hotchkiss said the town’s Methodist minister “has been going around trying to calm the people down after the flood. But he can only do so much, and people were starting to get upset with the lack of progress.
“I heard about this service, and we arranged for it. You really appreciate the help, and then when these guys are done they stand around and pray with you and give you hugs,” the mayor said. “That’s the really great part.”
As far as anyone in Lamont can recall, this was the biggest flood ever to hit the town.
Hotchkiss patrolled in his “mayor mobile,” a John Deere Gator ATV, as he kept SBC relief workers informed of residents who had signed up for help.
“I think she’s a shift worker and may work nights,” Hotchkiss told one disaster relief worker who had been unable to contact a homeowner at the door or by phone. “She’ll be up in a little while.”
The mayor, who seemed to know most of the town’s residents on a first-name basis, has been on the city council off and on for about 30 years. A tool and die maker in Cedar Rapids, Hotchkiss works nights and handles town affairs during the day.
Southern Baptist workers were washing chairs at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church when the church treasurer, Dian Smith, came by to thank them for assisting with the clean-up. She said the church had 24 inches of water in the basement from the creek behind it.
“Everyone in the church membership is just tough, though. We are old and faithful,” Smith said, noting that about 15 people attend the church.
Asked what the church means to her personally, Smith said, “It gives you inner strength. The older ladies have been role models for me.”
She spoke of faith, courage and blessings as she showed off quilts that the Lutheran auxiliary ladies had prepared for shipments to an overseas mission. Nearly 100 quilts were undamaged in the flood and sat in boxes ready for transporting.
Smith, in her early 60s, said she was one of the younger members of the congregation.
“These thrifty Lutheran ladies,” she said. “They didn’t want to throw away any of the pots and pans when we cleaned out the basement.”
Lutheran relief workers helped them scrub the pots and pans, and they are back on the shelves ready for the next church potluck.
The pastor, Roger McKinstry, serves four Lutheran churches in northeast Iowa. He has been a spiritual comfort to the elderly St. Peter’s members. But Smith said the Southern Baptist efforts were a special blessing because “we just didn’t have the energy” to clean the rest of it out.
Norman Wagoner, who has served in disaster relief for nearly 30 years, supervises the Oklahoma mud-out crew. Though he grew up a Methodist, he got involved in Southern Baptist missions work when he married a Baptist.
Oklahoma, along with Texas, was one of the first states to get involved in disaster relief as men’s ministry.
“It’s really rewarding” Wagoner said. “We just wanted to come over here and help these people with their flood and show the love of God.”
At the city hall at noon, women from the fire department auxiliary in Lamont passed out sandwiches, salads, chips, drinks and dessert for the disaster relief workers. Some of the workers from South Carolina, who also are volunteer fire department members, mentioned that they liked the fire department T-shirts the women were wearing. Within a few minutes, a box was broken open and several Lamont Fire Department T-shirts were given out as gifts to the relief workers from a grateful community.
In the evening a roast beef dinner was planned in the town community center on Main Street. A “roast beef sundae” included roast beef, mashed potatoes, bread, gravy and a cherry tomato on top. Salads and plenty of cold lemonade also were served. Amid the Iowa hospitality, the townsfolk profusely thanked the Southern Baptists who had come to help.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Nations is editor of the Iowa Baptist newspaper.)