Amid ongoing COVID-19 response, Southern Baptists help disaster survivors

By Brandon Elrod

HOUSTON—Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders and volunteers continue meeting needs and sharing the hope of the gospel in response both to the pandemic and to natural disasters in their communities. The challenges presented by COVID-19 have necessitated adjustments, but SBDR has sought to ensure a continued presence and continued service.

“I’ve been really encouraged to see Southern Baptists step up, encouraged but not surprised,” said Sam Porter, the national director of SBDR through the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Send Relief. “When needs arise, Southern Baptists don’t shy away from reaching out no matter what challenges are in their way.”

Volunteers and teams with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) have been providing support to the Houston Food Bank at their neighborhood super sites in the Houston area according to a report last Thursday (April 23) from the Southern Baptist Texan.

Jason and Fran Mayfield, masked, worked as SBTC DR hospitality hosts at the Texans Training Bubble Super Site on April 18. Photo by Kyle Sadler

Thousands of families have been receiving food at super sites located near NRG Stadium, south of downtown Houston, and at the Cypress Premium Outlets mall in northwest Houston. The size of these distributions required the assistance of the National Guard to direct traffic and hundreds of volunteers to pack boxes of food and load them into vehicles, reported the Texan.

Volunteers with SBDR prepared hot meals for those volunteers and helped operate hospitality tents located on site.

The Houston Food Bank’s Texans Training Bubble Super Site provides food for thousands on Saturdays. Photo by Kyle Sadler

“The food bank had so much food and so many people who needed it,” said SBDR volunteer Connie Roark in the report. “It was a great day for us. The food bank expected to serve 5,000 by the evening.”

During that week, however, tragedy struck when a tornado hit the small town of Onalaska, roughly 85 miles north of Houston, claiming the lives of at least three people, destroying dozens of homes and damaging at least 245 more. An SBTC volunteer crew arrived the day after the disaster to clear downed trees and debris.

“DR has changed during the coronavirus,” Scottie Stice, director of SBDR for the SBTC, told the Texan. “It’s a new day in DR. Now we try to do day trips as much as possible.”

Crews and volunteers with SBDR across North America are balancing their relief efforts to those affected by the economic and medical impact of coronavirus as well as those whose lives are upturned by spring storms.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers prepare meals for those in need at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La. Volunteers then picked up the meals, delivering them to two other local churches, Mount Olive Baptist Church and New Shiloh Baptist Church, that managed distribution to the community. Those preparing and delivering the meals adhered to guidelines related to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Screen capture of Louisiana Baptist video

A Louisiana Baptist disaster relief team of seven has been providing between 800-1,000 meals a day for those in Lake Charles, La., and distributing them to anyone who has a need through two churches in Lake Charles, Mount Olive Baptist Church and New Shiloh Baptist Church. They follow strict sanitary and social distancing protocols while doing so.

Volunteers in New Orleans also provided meals for a period of five days to a homeless community that city and state officials had sheltered in a hotel in attempt to keep them safe from the coronavirus.

Most SBDR teams are primarily tending to their own states, but Louisiana volunteers assisted Mississippi SBDR crews after the state experienced its third week of tornados.

“With the recent tornadoes across the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, even though it has been in the midst of this coronavirus and the social distancing, when we called on our volunteers, they have been ready and willing to respond,” said Gibbie McMillan, men’s ministry and disaster relief strategist for Louisiana Baptists.

“We have not had any problems getting a full team to respond to those who are hurting,” he said. “That’s the strength of Southern Baptists and the local church.”

Mississippi Baptists have had a strong presence across the state in assisting with food delivery to those in need with several college students at various Baptist Student Unions participating in the effort. Hubert Yates, Mississippi’s SBDR director, reported that churches statewide are either making meals for healthcare workers, creating homemade masks for those who need them and checking in on the elderly.

At the same time, SBDR volunteers have made the necessary adjustments to respond to the recent string of tornadoes.

“We do appreciate our volunteers adapting and looking for ways to do ministry in these times. It’s not the way we’re used to doing things,” said Yates. “We have had to look at changes that need to be made not only for our protection but for the protection of those we are reaching out to as well.”

Southern Baptist volunteers from at least 19 state conventions, from New England to Arizona, are bringing help, healing and hope.

Through COVID-19 response-related projects, SBDR has prepared 38,260 meals, distributed more than 224,000 meals and worked more than 45,000 volunteer hours. In all of their various responses in 2020, SBDR volunteers report making more than 800 gospel presentations, and they have recorded 214 professions of faith.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board. Jane Rodgers with the Southern Baptist Texan contributed to this report.

Published April 28, 2020