published Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Cooper: Churches rally for disaster relief

Donna Street had no power and a tree on her house to boot, but she said she much preferred to be in the thick of disaster-relief coordination at Trenton United Methodist Church in Trenton, Ga.

The Dade County resident said she ran for a school-board post in Dade County last year but lost.

“I think [God] knew this was going to happen,” Street said, referring to the tornadoes and storms that struck the tri-state area with such devastating force on April 27. “He knew my skills were needed somewhere else.”

Trenton UMC is one of many houses of worship — spanning various faiths and denominational stripes — in the midst of damaged communities and neighborhoods in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama that have become nerve centers of disaster relief.

At Street’s church, for instance, clothing, water and supplies were doled out to needy residents from the gymnasium; breakfast, lunch and dinner were cooked for the hungry in the kitchen; and a rented portable laundry center afforded people the ability to wash their clothes.

Elsewhere in the town in a coordinated effort, she said, different needs were being attended to by volunteers from different churches.

“When we started dedicating [additional] money to benevolence,” Street said, referring to a turning point in her congregation several years ago, “our financial issues stopped being so pressing. All kinds of wonderful things have happened because we’re doing what God wants us to be doing.”

Forty miles away in Apison, a similar laundry trailer owned by Ridgedale Baptist Church churned away across the street from Apison Baptist Church, which is also a disaster relief center.

An adjacent trailer, owned by Ridgedale Baptist, allowed people to take hot showers.

“Disaster relief [for] Southern Baptists is one of our big things,” said the Rev. David Myers, director of missions for the Hamilton County Baptist Association.

In Apison Baptist’s Faith Building, meanwhile, clothing, household goods, nonperishable food, toys, toiletries and cleaning supplies were among the items available for families who’d lost practically everything they had.

Sharing space with the Baptists was, among other agencies, the Episcopal Church-related Metropolitan Ministries, which had received a grant to provide storm assistance in the form of gas cards, food vouchers and utilities assistance at a satellite location.

Elsewhere, Myers said, Dallas Bay Baptist Church had dispatched its chainsaw team to assist people with serious tree issues, and New Salem Baptist Church had sent its shower trailer to Morris Hill Baptist Church, where emergency work crews and others could stop in.

Still under the broad auspices of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, he said, Brainerd Baptist Church volunteers cooked food for the American Red Cross to pick up and distribute across the area. In two days last week, the volunteers turned out 1,500 meals.

“They can turn out the mass feeding,” Myers said.

Many of the Baptist volunteers are disaster veterans, he said, having served at sites across the country. The willing volunteers, he said, have been certified for official disaster relief — after taking a $38 course — and have passed background checks.

Because of their training, they are often among the first groups called after disasters by organizations such as the Tennessee Baptist Convention and emergency management agencies, Myers said.

“Part of the command [by Christ to his followers] is to respond to folks in need,” he said. “Everybody’s trying to do their part. This is what folks want to do.”

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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