DECATUR, Ala. — Industrial-sized circular fans pushed humid air down the warehouse alleys, lightening the mid-90s afternoon temperatures for the workers. The group removed lids from plastic buckets, organized cleaning supplies and restacked the buckets on pallets to be placed on the multilevel warehouse shelving.
Most of the 10 volunteers at the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Disaster Response Warehouse in Decatur on Friday were members of Burks United Methodist Church on Hixson Pike. The church has sent a group of volunteers to the warehouse, making the two-hour drive south, every few months, said Neil Carriker, a volunteer with the group.
On Friday, the group did a variety of tasks, including filling buckets with cleaning and hygiene supplies to hand out after a disaster. The buckets include the essentials for someone whose home has been damaged by a tornado or flood, or someone who has been relocated because of a disaster and did not have time to pack household necessities. The volunteers also checked buckets that had been made by other groups and sent to the warehouse to be distributed.
Jan Ivey said the warehouse offers a variety of volunteer opportunities with the many relief efforts it runs, so there is something of interest for everyone. The ability to do hands-on work helping others is important, she said.
"I feel like I'm blessed with everything I have and it's a responsibility to help any way I can," Ivey said.
UMCOR is a nonprofit relief wing of the United Methodist Church. The Decatur warehouse serves seven states throughout the Southeast United States, said John Montgomery, a volunteer leader at the warehouse. Churches, Scout troops and mission trip volunteers work compiling the supplies into plastic buckets and checking pre-made buckets sent to the warehouse, Montgomery said. All of the supplies UMCOR uses in disaster relief are donated or purchased through monetary donations.
The preparation work groups like Burks does helps UMCOR respond immediately after a disaster, such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael, rather than waiting for a storm to hit and then compiling supplies. The warehouse responds to about six disasters a year, Montgomery said.
"You see us working so hard because we are kind of in a feast-or-famine situation," Montgomery said. "We are not waiting for the next tornado. We know it's going to happen."
Last year's Hurricane Michael damaged Florida and Georgia so badly that the warehouse was pushed to its limits, with volunteers gathering supplies for buckets that were then placed directly onto pallets and into trucks headed south, Montgomery said.
The Southeast is in peak hurricane season, which typically lasts from mid-August to October. On Tuesday, Tropical Storm Dorian was nearing hurricane strength.
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, are becoming more intense and causing more damage. An analysis of Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 dropped more than 60 inches of rain in Southeast Texas and caused $125 billion in damage, found increased temperatures increased the amount of precipitation by up to 38%. As the destruction of these storms increases, services such as UMCOR will be even more stressed.
During the hurricane season in the fall and the tornado season in the spring, the warehouse's inventory of supply buckets, tarps and shovels will empty, Montgomery said.
Joe Huber, a Burks volunteer, said Friday's volunteer efforts did more than just prepare buckets to be sent to a disaster site. The work brings church members together.
"If we didn't come, somebody else would [volunteer]," Huber said. "So, it's about connecting with the church, connecting with this ministry."
Before traveling to Decatur, Burks UMC held a shoebox-packing session last Wednesday for church members to pack Christmas gifts in shoeboxes to be sent overseas to missionaries and children around the world. The church brought more than 700 boxes on Friday, to add to the thousands that will be sent out for the upcoming holiday season, Carriker said.
The Burks volunteers spent a long day away from Chattanooga, leaving their church around 7 a.m. and not returning until more than 12 hours later. The days are long, but they are also rewarding, Carriker said.
"You come down here and you work for a day, you check 200 buckets, you can see the work you've done," he said. " You've accomplished something and you know that it's helping people."
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Find him on Twitter at @News4Mass.