A study about Hurricane Katrina and faith-based groups response draws attention to North Carolina Baptist Men.
Calling Baptist Men “one of the more striking examples” of disaster relief efforts in the Gulf Coast, one of the author’s of the study, Chris Kromm, said that effort in Gulfport, Miss., “was very successful.”
The study, “Faith in the Gulf: Lessons from the Religious Response to Hurricane Katrina,” was compiled by the Institute for Southern Studies, based in Durham. It called faith groups a “leading force” in recovery efforts.
Released Aug. 27, the report reviewed more than 80 faith and community-based organizations between March and August 2008, evaluating response efforts since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005, followed by Hurricane Rita Sept. 24.
North Carolina’s effort in Mississippi was one of the most coordinated home-building repair efforts, Kromm said.
Baptist Men built or rebuild more than 700 homes over 28 months ending in January 2008. A special ceremony in Gulfport was held in January to commemorate the efforts of Baptist Men.
One of the striking things for Kromm, who is also executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, was seeing how these groups, like the Baptist Men, came in and had “remarkably little evidence of many turf battles.” Instead, with speed and skill, volunteers gave their time, money and energy to help those in need.
The report referred to faith groups being the “first line of defense in seeking refuge from the storms” in the Gulf Coast.
“When the government wasted time arguing over process, faith groups mobilized brigades of willing volunteers and helped us muck out our homes, churches and buildings,” the foreword states.
More importantly, the report said the help has not stopped.
“In the first six months after the storm, 6,000 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from 36 states descended on the Gulf Coast to deliver hundreds of ‘pop up’ shelters and run mobile kitchens and recover sites,” the report stated.
About 500,000 meals were served within the first 48 hours after Katrina by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. Southern Baptists also purified more than 21,000 gallons of water in the first year.
One of the difficult things about the research, Kromm said, was trying to capture what was really happening because of lack of documentation.
“Our sense is that the numbers are significantly higher than reported,” but there’s no way to tell until organizations and churches do a better job with keeping details of their efforts.
Almost three years after the storm, about 42,000 people were still in FEMA trailers and mobile homes. The study found that Louisiana officials are only planning to replace 30 percent of housing destroyed by Katrina. Mississippi is only planning to replace about half, 47,000 of the “90,000 that suffered moderate to severe damage.”
The report showed that Louisiana residents rated faith groups as “highly effective,” higher than city, state and federal efforts (Louisiana State University study).
Two years after the storm, about 30 percent of New Orleans’ 1,502 houses of worship had yet to reopen.
Baptist Builders put together “2007 Baptist Blitz Build” which built 12 homes in 12 days in Baton Rouge. Baptist Builders is made up of six Baptist organizations.
The study said Baptist Men sent 16,000 volunteers by early 2007, building 400 homes in Gulfport alone. (The final number built was 715, as of January 2008.)
“Faith groups are one of the few sectors that seem to get it that rebuilding will take at least 5 to 10 more years,” Kromm said. “(They) play a critical role in bringing (awareness) of Katrina” to others in their communities and in continuing to send much-needed volunteers, money and supplies.
When asked about volunteer burnout, Kromm said that this did not appear to be the case with Katrina efforts. In fact, he said, the number of volunteers increased in year two of efforts, and many who sent groups in year two sent groups again this year.
“Many of them kept their eyes on the prize; they didn’t see that it was time to fold up their tents,” he said.
Faith groups are “good at educating people of the ongoing needs” involved, Kromm said.
It was faith groups who’ve helped keep Katrina efforts on the national radar, he said, not only providing services but promoting volunteer efforts within their congregations and their communities.
The Institute has published several reports on Katrina. The current report used three researchers to interview more than 300 residents and leaders and wade through piles of paperwork as well as other materials collected about the hurricane and its aftermath.
The six-month study also looks at today's barriers to Gulf rebuilding, and the innovative strategies religious groups are using to revitalize neighborhoods and promote needed changes in rebuilding policy.
Founded in 1970, the Institute for Southern Studies is an award-winning non-profit research and education center based in Durham. The Institute has conducted 26 fact-finding trips in the Gulf Coast and released seven reports on the Katrina recovery, including “Blueprint for Gulf Renewal” (August 2007), “A New Agenda for the Gulf Coast” (February 2007), and most recently “Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement” (January 2008, with the Brookings Institution).