GONZALES, La. Twenty thousand hot dogs is a lot. But every hot meal (each containing two hot dogs) was appreciated by the survivors of Hurricane Ida who received the food prepared by Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers and delivered to area shelters and neighborhoods by the Salvation Army.
“More wieners and fajitas than I want to see again for a while,” said Debby Nichols of De Kalb, Texas who is serving as lead cook for the SBTC DR mass feeding team of 18 volunteers from the Unity Baptist Association near Lufkin and serving in Gonzales, La. in support of the Salvation Army.
The Unity crew began cooking on Tues., Aug. 31. Because the demand has been so great, a second mass feeding unit from First Baptist Pflugerville arrived on site late Wed., Sept. 1 and set up the larger kitchen the next day.
It took the Pflugerville team 11 rather than the expected 7 hours to make the trek from Central Texas to Louisiana because of heavy traffic at the state border, team leader Mike Northen told the TEXAN.
Feeding teams began fixing 10,000 meals per day on Aug. 31 and prepared to double that by Sept. 3.
The conditions are challenging at the open-air Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, where the DR volunteers are working. While some electrical plugs are operational, teams are relying on generators to run the field kitchen. There is no air conditioning at the center or at First Baptist Gonzales, where teams are being housed.
The Dixon center is also serving as a staging area for utility linemen, tree crews, Salvation Army volunteers and other groups responding to the hurricane, which struck Louisiana on Sun., Aug. 29, exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Ida hit the Bayou State and spun into Mississippi, dumping heavy rains in Tennessee and Ohio throughout the week before eventually moving over the eastern seaboard in New England.
While contact between SBTC DR crews and survivors has been limited—since Salvation Army personnel are delivering the hot meals packed in Cambro containers—the DR volunteers are having opportunities to pray with the work crews and first responders congregating in the Dixon center, Nichols said.
Other SBTC DR workers are joining hundreds of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to help Louisiana and the affected states.
Shirley and Cliff Spencer of Spring set up the SBTC DR shower and laundry unit from the Bowie Baptist Association on Sept. 2 in West Monroe, where they began doing laundry for survivors at a shelter there.
An incident management team from SBTC DR has been at work in Alexandria, La., since Aug. 30 to help coordinate SBDR across Louisiana. The IMT is staying at the Tall Timbers Baptist Camp and Conference Center.
Debra Britt, the IMT’s operations officer, told the TEXAN that as of Sept. 1, more than 450 requests for help had been received. Britt said seven mass feeding sites had been established and volunteers from multiple state Baptist DR teams had arrived or were expected. Besides Louisiana and SBTC DR, volunteers from Texas Baptist Men, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky are on site or on the way with recovery teams, Britt said.
“We are only on week one,” Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, said. “We will continue to serve in mass feeding till public utilities come back online and then focus on recovery operations soon to start. We are so proud of our yellow-shirted volunteers out there working under difficult, hot, humid conditions.”
A recovery team from Clay Road Baptist Church in Beaumont escorting the feeding teams to Gonzales was able to complete a few jobs before returning to Texas.
As for the feeding volunteers at Gonzales, Thursday’s menu in Gonzales featured hamburgers, chips, baked beans and chances for spiritual contacts.
“We don’t come across many survivors when we’re in the kitchen,” Northen said, “But we look for opportunities with the delivery and service people. There are lost people all around us.”
Northen added that when he and other DR volunteers go to pick up supplies at Home Depot and other stores, people come up to thank them for their service.
“We just try to rub shoulders with all we can,” he said. “They see our [yellow] shirts and that makes for good conversation.”
A lady came up to the Pflugerville group at a Buccee’s stop as they made their way to Louisiana and asked if she could make a donation.
Northen gave her the website address which anyone can use to donate to Hurricane Ida relief: https://sbtexas.com/disaster-relief/.