Ike Relief Winds Down
It took Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief volunteers nearly 20 years to help prepare their first 2 million meals. It has taken only two months for them to increase that total to almost 3 million.
Since responding to Hurricane Gustav Sept. 1 and continuing through operations in a kitchen at the Galveston Airport beginning Sept. 25 as a result of Hurricane Ike, Oklahoma Baptists have joined with Baptists from other states, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to prepare more than 900,000 meals.
Overall, in disaster relief activity related to Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, SBC disaster relief feeding kitchens have now prepared nearly 4.9 million hot meals for hurricane victims and volunteers.
As of Oct. 17, Southern Baptist disaster relief teams had chalked up 40,760 volunteer days; completed 3,944 mud-out, chain saw and roofing jobs; provided 41,469 showers and 12,871 laundry loads; and recorded 19,000 ministry contacts, including 3,100 chaplaincy contacts, 970 gospel presentations and 182 professions of faith.
Gustav struck Louisiana on Sept. 1, and Ike hit Texas and Louisiana on Sept. 13. Wikipedia reports that Ike was the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history with damages estimated at $27 billion, ranking it behind only Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005. The storm has been blamed for 177 deaths, including 96 in the U.S. At one point, Ike’s diameter was measured at 550 miles and its wind speed at 240 miles per hour.
“The presidential election and the decline in the economy took the media focus off of Ike, but Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana are still suffering,” pointed out Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“There are right at 100 churches beyond repair in Texas alone from Houston to Galveston and eastward toward Beaumont and Port Arthur. The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) had 363 churches damaged; about 60 beyond repair. The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) had, at the last count, 29 that will have to be bulldozed and started over. It’s just unbelievable.”
More than 17,000 homes were flooded in Galveston from the 12-foot storm surge which resulted from Ike. As a result, thousands of residents lost the ability to cook because their kitchens were ruined.
Oklahoma Baptists joined with SBTC, American Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers to set up a 350,000-square-foot feeding operation on the tarmac at the Galveston Airport.
“This had never been done before where these different agencies all gathered and cooked under the same tent together,” Porter said. “The kitchen included cooking and cleaning areas, and had 35-40 semi trailers parked there to be used as the pantry.”
On Sept. 27, feeding units from Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois produced 75,000 meals.
“After that, every day until about a week ago, they averaged 35,000 meals per day,” Porter said. “The most our team had ever done before was about 15,000 meals per day.
Oklahoma made a commitment of sending 25-30 people to Galveston every week as long as the kitchen was open, Porter said, and has been rotating teams ever since.
State volunteers also worked in kitchens in Oklahoma City, Baton Rouge, and Port Arthur and Madisonville, Texas.
“We’ve never deployed this many people before in our history in such a condensed amount of time,” Porter said. “Katrina was our largest response overall, because we were in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for four-and-a-half months.”
Porter said on one particular day, the BGCO had 170 people on the ground working in Baton Rouge, Oklahoma City and Galveston combined. As of Oct. 17, state volunteers had logged 2,850 volunteer days since Sept. 1. That includes feeding teams, chain saw crews and mud out crews.
Oklahoma volunteers have done almost 180 mud-out jobs in Galveston, most through requests obtained through local churches.
“We targeted police officers and city officials’ homes first,” Porter said. “Most of those were complete to the ceiling because mold grows so quickly down there.”
Chain saw crews have completed close to 150 jobs, including removing some trees from the Galveston mayor’s yard.
“We have had several people saved,” Porter said. “We know of two policemen in Galveston for sure, who accepted Christ after mud out jobs had been completed in their homes.”
The work has been long, it has been hard and it has been costly.
“Our feeding teams have worked harder than probably at any other time in history,” Porter said. “On that first Saturday, Sept. 27, for example, our team worked from 2:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. They finally broke the work day up into two shifts later on, the first one going from 3-11 a.m. and the second one from 11 a.m. to close.”
As to the cost, Porter said, “We have spent more than $50,000 in two months with travel and equipment maintenance expenses just getting people down there and back home. Our total state mission offering this year, if we reach the goal, is $50,000, and we’ve spent that already. But, God has blessed us in a great way, and we’re counting on Him to continue to do so.
“But, that’s just the cost of doing ministry. Our philosophy is we do disaster relief to earn the right to share the Gospel, so we’re helping our Texas brothers and sisters impact their community for Christ, and I’m very proud of our volunteers; they witness at every home they’re in. The difference is the mud-out and chain saw crews get the chance to share the Gospel and give a Bible every place they go. Our feeding units don’t necessarily get that opportunity to see the people out there.”
Porter expressed a special thanks to the members of Clinton, First, which has expedited and provided for the comfort of volunteers going to and from Galveston by driving them there and back in one of their large, 43-passenger buses each week.
The feeding operation in Galveston is scheduled to shut down the end of October.
The BGCO Disaster Relief ministry is funded through gifts to the Cooperative Program and the Edna McMillan State Missions Offering. To make a donation specifically to this ministry, make a check out to Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief and mail it to BGCO Disaster Relief, 3800 N. May Avenue, Oklahoma City 73112.
For further information about disaster relief, contact Porter at 405/942-3000, ext. 4337, or Mary Stephens at ext. 4336.