KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Don Owen's ready to send a 40-foot container filled with water, toilet paper, food and other supplies from God's Warehouse to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Owen is director of disaster relief for the Tennessee Baptists' Nolachucky Association in northeast Tennessee. God's Warehouse, in Morristown, holds truckloads of donated water, diapers, toilet paper, cleaning materials and other supplies ready to send to people needing help.
Volunteers will pack those items plus vacuum-sealed, pre-packed, ready-to-cook dinners of rice and beans into a 40-foot container. That container will be trucked to Jacksonville, Fla., where a boat will take it to San Juan.
From there the Baptists have maneuvered through post-Hurricane Maria communication challenges to find truck transportation to move their gifts to the Calvary Bible Baptist College in Carolina, a city east of San Juan, for distribution.
Shipping cost is $4,869, Owen said. He can fill two more of the large containers if money is raised for their shipping.
Owen sounded both elated and exhausted on Sept 29. He's happy coordinators have untangled how to get supplies to the United States territory. But he, like other Tennesseans volunteering for faith-based disaster relief, admits to being emotionally and physically drained.
Many denominations are also still helping people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas, Florida and other areas of the South. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief's never before worked three major disasters at once, said Wesley Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Missions Board.
Tennessee churches, like many other relief groups, face unique problems in aiding Puerto Rico. Helpers can't drive a mobile kitchen or truck filled with water as they could to Houston or Florida. In addition to the added costs and logistics of getting to the island, relief workers face post-hurricane challenges that include crippling power and communication outages and damaged infrastructure.
Southern Baptists in Tennessee initially were asked to staff and send a mobile kitchen to Puerto Rico. But then the request was put on hold. "We're on standby," Jones said. There's a possibility Baptist cook teams later will be sent, without the mobile kitchens, to prepare large-scale meals in schools on the island, he said.
"We encourage our people not to be flexible but to be fluid," Jones said. "Our folks in Tennessee have a desire to go and to serve. When the doors open, they will go."
Many Tennessee churches and denominations are asking members to give money rather than supplies through their churches or the faith-based web pages. (See below for ways to help.) Some denominations likely will send people to Puerto Rico later.
Tennessee Catholics were first asked to donate funds in late August after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the social service arm for the Diocese of Nashville, is now asking parishioners to give financial contributions to help the Caribbean.
The 51 East Tennessee parishes and mission churches in the Diocese of Knoxville have been giving since late August, said spokesman Jim Wogan. The diocese expects to raise more than $200,000 to aid people in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, he said.
United Methodist congregations also are raising money. Among them are Nashville's First Hispanic UMC and Ebenezer Hispanic UMC. Other Methodists have filled five-gallon buckets with cleaning supplies and plastic bags with hygiene items that can go to the island.
West Tennessee and western Kentucky UMC congregations sent 1,250 buckets of cleaning materials and nearly 2,000 hygiene kits for hurricane relief to Reelfoot Rural Ministries, a mission program of the UMC's Memphis Conference in Obion, Tennessee.
Volunteers loaded the buckets and kits along with a few box fans and extension cords into trucks Sept. 25, said the Rev. Robert Craig, Reelfoot executive director. The supplies were trucked to a United Methodist Committee on Relief warehouse in Alabama. From there, the supplies will go to Florida or Puerto Rico.