As Red Cross vans arrived empty and departed with thousands of meals cooked by Texan Southern Baptists, three Louisiana men quietly scrubbed pots, pans and insulated food transport containers at the Zoar Baptist Church parking lot.
“We’re grateful they’re here,” Paul Taylor, a Zoar Baptist member, said of the Texans as he rinsed washed containers under a canopy.
Working with him on Labor Day were Zoar Baptist volunteers Donald Jenkins and Joe Guidroz, who didn’t talk much while bringing dirty containers from one stack and piling clean ones on another.
Jerry Bishop, of Lufkin, Texas, explained how the Red Cross provided the food stored in four semi-truck trailers, the Baptists cooked it, then the Red Cross vans distributed the meals to more than 30 shelters, feeding sites and churches as far away as New Orleans and the coastal parishes.
“We can cook up to 20,000 meals a day,” Bishop said.
The activity in the Zoar Baptist Church parking lot offered just one snapshot of the cooperative relief efforts faith-based groups are making to fill needs created by Hurricane Isaac’s deluge of rain, wind and storm surge. From denominational relief agencies gearing up to smaller groups of volunteers jumping in to help where they could, the work looked to be both immediate and long-term as well as inclusive of people from a variety of faiths.
In Livingston Parish, a group of United Methodist clergy, officials from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and the episcopal leader for the Louisiana Annual Conference, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, were touring the flooded areas on Labor Day from the back of a National Guard truck, according to a report from Betty Backstrom, director of communications for the conference.
The Rev. Darryl Tate, director for the Conference disaster relief ministry, said pallets of water and bleach and thousands of cleaning buckets and health kits are being distributed from a depot set up at First United Methodist in Ponchatoula.
“Local United Methodist churches are ramping up to house disaster response teams that are traveling to Louisiana to assist with recovery efforts,” Backstrom reported. Local volunteers have already begun gutting houses that were flooded by Hurricane Isaac’s torrential rains.
“Please pray for those who survived the storm as they not only rebuild their homes but their lives,” wrote Bishop Harvey in a letter to United Methodists throughout Louisiana.
Even while Isaac was still crawling across the area, Catholic Charities’ disaster operations team from the Diocese of Baton Rouge was preparing for its aftermath, reported Carol Spruell, director of communications for that agency.
After the storm passed, Maurepas/Head of Island emerged as the area with the greatest need, Spruell said. With volunteers from Holy Rosary in St. Amant, the agency distributed three truckloads of food, water, cleanup supplies, bug spray and ice in two days.
“St. Vincent De Paul provided clothes that we distributed to a shelter in Albany, the Food Bank, Arkel Industries, the Red Cross, Livingston Parish Emergency Operations Center, Red’s Restaurant, and Lowes,” Spruell said.
A distribution site in Lutcher is planned as well as in Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes and volunteers continue to deliver supplies to families isolated by high water, Spruell said.
“The real disaster work hasn’t really started,” said David C Aguillard, executive director of Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge. “Like after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, soon we’ll be headlong into case management, the hard work of helping disaster victims rebuild their lives.”
About 300 members from Baton Rouge area congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be uniting Saturday and Sunday with another 500 Mormons from congregations from New Orleans, Alexandria, Lafayette, and Jackson, Miss., for cleanup work in LaPlace, Nayda Easley, public affairs director for the Baton Rouge Stake, said in an email. The effort is called Mormon Helping Hands.
During the following few weekends those volunteers will be joined by LDS members from as far east as Panama City, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., and as far north as Monroe, Easley said.
The Atlas Foundation, an interfaith dialogue organization founded by Turkish Muslims and their American friends, delivered food donations to the Salvation Army and the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless, said Tevfik Akbulut, the foundation’s Baton Rouge branch representative.
Hurricane Isaac was still blowing when LSU Baptist Collegiate Ministries Director Steve Masters gathered a group of young men to take a crash course in how to safely operate a chain saw.
“We didn’t even have electricity,” Masters said with a laugh. “We watched the DVDs with power from a generator.”
While their LSU friends were tailgating prior to Saturday’s season-opening game against North Texas, the crew cut up a tree that fell on the playground of Christ Covenant Church on Lee Drive.
Cathryn Chalis, Christ Covenant’s pre-school director, said the children would miss the huge gum tree, but having the LSU guys cut it up “is a huge blessing.”
Since then the men have cut up a half-dozen trees in Baton Rouge area yards and on Labor Day morning more than 50 students and adult volunteers convoyed to Madisonville to “mud-out” First Baptist Church that was flooded three feet deep, as well as several dozen homes.
“These students are being the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Sarah Farley, LSU-BCM associate director.
Gibbie McMillan, coordinator for the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s 18 disaster relief teams, said that with the extensive flood damage in the LaPlace area, he expects that clearing mud from homes and repairing roofs will be ongoing tasks.
Housing will be needed for volunteers coming from out of state to the area, he said. “As we help the hurting pray, they will open their doors to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.”
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