RALEIGH — Ann Strickland says it was unseen angels who protected her house when a tornado threw 70-foot trees around in her backyard on April 16 - and angels in yellow T-shirts who are now cleaning up the mess.
A half-dozen volunteers from the N.C. Baptist Men worked for hours Friday sawing and stacking a dozen large poplar and maple trees that fell on Strickland's property. The team, from Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, was part of the Baptist State Convention's disaster relief operation, which fanned out across Eastern North Carolina immediately after the storms.
They're still working in Fayetteville and Raleigh, clearing downed trees in some places, helping rebuild homes in others.
"I don't think there's any organization that does the work these men and women do," Strickland said as she watched from her back porch. "I admire everybody who's doing anything to help, but these people really put a loving effort into everything they do."
Strickland, 71, has diabetes and is recovering from a broken arm. Her husband has heart trouble and a bad back from a fall off a ladder.
Since the trees didn't hit the house or cars, the couple's insurance wouldn't pay the thousands of dollars it would cost to do the work. Except for a huge maple that a friend cut up because he wants the wood, the Stricklands didn't know how they were going to get rid of those trees, most of which were pulled up by the roots.
Jerry Pool, leader of the team working at the Stricklands' house near Penny Road, started volunteering with the Baptist Men in 2003, after he retired. Following Hurricane Katrina, Pool spent the better part of two years cleaning up and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast.
"It's a ministry," he said, that especially tries to help the elderly, the handicapped and the needy.
"We're able to accomplish a lot. We tackle these jobs with the Lord's help and guidance. There's a lot of people that have a heart for this kind of thing."
It's been nearly a month since the tornadoes hit, and Baptist Men volunteers have provided more than 8,500 volunteer days, completed more than 1,050 jobs and served more than 70,000 meals.
Many volunteers are retired. Others use vacation time. All pay their own travel expenses and a small fee that covers housing, usually in a church, and meals, prepared by other N.C. Baptist Men volunteers.
Dwayne Patterson, neighborhood services supervisor for the city, said the Baptist Men fill a huge gap by doing on private property what the city can't do and insurance won't pay for and residents can't afford.
"And they're so efficient and so effective," Patterson said. "They've been able to get a tremendous amount of cleanup done that would have taken weeks or months."
The work helps the whole community, Patterson said, not just those on whose property the Baptists labor.
"Any resident that travels through these areas that were hit, it does something to your mental psyche to just see that day in and day out," he said. "When all this stuff is removed, it just makes things look so much better. But also, for the spirit and soul, it's very uplifting to see progress and to see restoration and advancement."
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