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Florida DR workers take on servant mantle in Sandy response

By Barbara Denman

December 3, 2012

Florida Baptist DR volunteers Marvin Corbin, Roger and Yvonne Wolfe and Roy Henderson work with SBDR leader Mickey Caison in Edison, NJ., to provide behind the scenes logistical support for the Southern Baptist relief effort after Hurricane Sandy. 
EDISON, N.J. (FBC)—On a snowy morning during the last week in November, Joan Lancaster rose at 6 a.m. from her air mattress on the floor of a Sunday School classroom at Raritan Valley Baptist Church in Edison, N.J. to fix a breakfast of corn beef and scrambled eggs for the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Command Center workers stationed there.

The Tampa resident was not used to dealing with the biting cold from temperatures that never inched above 30 degrees as she and the other Florida volunteers serving in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy coped with frozen water lines for portable showers and ice-covered lettuce.

Driving into town that morning for supplies she was stopped by the Walmart greeter who asked about her instantly recognizable yellow disaster relief jacket. After hearing why the Floridian has braved the harsh winter weather, the man effusively hugged and thanked Lancaster and her DR companions.

Lancaster and her husband, Al, members of Idlewild Baptist Church, will be in Edison for six weeks, “doing laundry, picking up trash and just taking care of people,” she said.

It’s not a job on the front lines of the Southern Baptist disaster response where other volunteers are cooking mass quantities of food or scraping mud from homes of the victims of “Superstorm Sandy.” The storm devastated parts of the nation’s most heavily populated region Oct. 29.

In their new roles, Lancaster and other Florida volunteers rarely relate to the storm’s survivors. Instead they are providing logistical support, working behind the scenes as unsung servants.

“It’s a background role,” said Fritz Wilson, SBDR executive director, “One that often goes unfilled but is a great need.”

Wilson, who until recently directed Florida’s DR team, said he specifically enlisted Florida volunteers to serve in this support role “because I know Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers will do whatever it takes to make it work.”

Immediately after the storm, SBCDR called out Florida Baptists’ two mass mobile feeding units and more than 60 volunteers loaded buses to make the thousand-mile trek to the affected area. But before they began the roll out, they were turned back due to lack of logistical support available in the Northeast.

Many of the same volunteers who were prepared to staff feeding units in that initial call are serving in different responsibilities than originally planned.

“Without them, we could not make the same impact we are making now,” said Wilson.

By the end of November, 40 Florida volunteers have been deployed to New Jersey to help in the disaster response. Others are expected to be sent during the coming months.

Volunteer Pat Tomlinson from First Baptist Church of Ocala put it simply, “We are keeping the Command Center happy so they can coordinate the work.”

The Command Center leaders have a significant responsibility, Tomlinson said, leading the massive efforts that include developing strategies while enlisting and positioning teams from across the nation. Many have been in Edison for the past six weeks and others will remain there until January.

Tomlinson and his wife, Deborah, coordinated the cooking duties from Nov. 26 until Dec. 4, feeding three meals a day from the church’s kitchen facilities. “I like to help where help is needed,” he said, “As Christians we are called to serve our fellow man and that in turn glorifies God.”

Marvin Corbin, a member of First Baptist Church of Fort McCoy, was deployed to New Jersey for two weeks with the logistic team at the Command Center, making sure mobile kitchens, shower units and generators were functioning, collecting supplies for mud-out teams and delivering supplies to mobile kitchens.

Working with fellow volunteer Vince Alderman, Corbin was dispatched to the Port of New York to “rifle” through volumes of materials donated to the relief effort searching for useful items for relief workers. Among their finds at the port were gloves, safety glasses and equipment that can be used in cleaning out mildewed debris from flooded homes.

In previous disaster responses Corbin served with mud-out crews going to survivors homes. In this new role, he admitted to missing the interaction and opportunities to share the gospel with those who he helped.

Yet he has been able to travel throughout the region and found that “people seek you out. They are so appreciative of what we are doing.” In an electrical supply store, the salesman “profusely thanked us.” Then he called three people from the warehouse specifically to meet and thank the volunteers.

“We are taking every opportunity we can to share our faith,” Corbin said, including while traveling on a train to New York City, driving through the toll booths and at the port check point.

Returning to his home in Lynn Haven after his deployment in New Jersey, Lee Newton and his two fellow volunteers Bob Wynn and Bob Wilson were stranded for hours in Atlanta when their truck broke down.

Reflecting upon his time in New Jersey as he prepared meals for the Command Team, Newton said he was moved by the “love and concern of our people as they ministered to others,” and the generosity of the host church, Raritan Valley Baptist Church, which houses three congregations in one facility—an Anglo, Chinese and Korean.

He was unconcerned about their unexpected stop in Atlanta, saying “I believe there is a purpose in everything and God will show us why we are here.”

A veteran of a dozen relief efforts, Sarah Jo Trimble of Pensacola was assigned as the Southern Baptist liaison with the American Red Cross in the New York City. She believes the denomination’s response after Sandy has “stretched Florida volunteers unlike any other disaster. It has been really challenging, dealing with weather so different and traffic that makes Miami’s roadways seem tame.”

In December, Florida college students will have their second opportunity in as many years to use their holiday breaks to minister to disaster survivors in the Northeast as the North American Mission Board is coordinating their deployment.

Teams from the Baptist College of Florida and University of Florida are being organized to travel to New Jersey and New York to most likely help survivors in flood recovery and clean up.

David Coggins, BCF associate professor of leadership, will take 12-15 students to the Northeast for a week Monday, Dec. 10. Several of these students have served in previous disaster responses, Coggins noted. Others were trained and credentialed during a DR training event held on campus.

SBDR volunteers surpassed the 1.5 million meals prepared mark Nov. 23. On Thanksgiving Day, six SBDR kitchens in New York and New Jersey prepared 40,000 meals. Volunteers have reported 57 individuals who have made professions of faith in Christ as a result of SBDR ministry.

Kitchen operations will continue to decline as power is restored, but the recovery efforts, like those with which the students will assist, will continue for months into the new year, according to Wilson.

“We are shifting out of emergency into long-term relief efforts,” he said. “That is one reason why I called on Florida volunteers who understand the marathon nature of disaster response.

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