Last week, Sharon Parker’s modest home overlooking Little Rockfish Creek was filled with 5 feet of floodwater. A week later, a team of volunteers from the N.C. Baptists on Mission filled the house to start the cleanup process.
The volunteers tore out flood-soaked walls and cabinets to prevent black mold from settling in. They helped sort through Parker’s belongings, many of which couldn’t be saved. Within a day or two, the house will be gutted and ready for rebuilding.
“I believe that God is taking care of me,” Parker said Saturday as she watched the volunteers work. “He’s been very gracious to me by sending people to help me. I prayed the night before these people walked in, ‘Help me God, because I can’t do this,’ and he sent me these people to help me.”
Baptists on Mission – also known as the N.C. Baptist Men, although plenty of women volunteer – has been one of the most active disaster relief groups in the days since Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. It now has mobile food kitchens and other operations in eight communities, including Fayetteville, Burgaw and Kinston.
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In Fayetteville, the Baptists are working with the American Red Cross, setting up a massive kitchen in the parking lot of Cedar Falls Baptist Church. By Saturday, they’d served 36,000 meals. They’re working on 100 homes, helping remove fallen trees and gutting flooded houses. Between 60 and 80 volunteers work at the site each day – they typically work four-day rotations – many of them sleeping on cots inside the church and showering in mobile bathrooms out back.
People are just getting out of flooded areas. We’ve heard stories of folks who haven’t eaten in days. ... We’re anticipating a long, long time here.
Greg Riggs, team leader with Baptists on Mission
“We’ll be here as long as we’re needed,” said Greg Riggs, a team leader for the site. “People are just getting out of flooded areas. We’ve heard stories of folks who haven’t eaten in days. ... We’re anticipating a long, long time here.”
Baptists on Mission and their volunteers in yellow T-shirts have been a common sight at natural disaster scenes across North Carolina and neighboring states. But the widespread damage from Hurricane Matthew has stretched the group’s resources, prompting other Baptist groups from Missouri, Virginia and Arkansas to join the effort.
“It’s going to be hard to meet the needs,” said Billy Threatt, a volunteer from Bennett Baptist Church in Chatham County. Threatt and several other church members have been responding to disasters for more than a decade, and they drove to Hope Mills on Saturday to help gut Parker’s house.
“We just have a desire to help our fellow brothers and sisters,” he said. “That’s what God calls us to do. We’re actually the ones who get the biggest blessing from this.”
Bill Martin of Winston-Salem has volunteered with the Baptists on Mission since 1992. “It’s all spiritual,” he said, explaining why he continues to do disaster relief work. “If we could just love each other and care for each other, think how much better we would be.”
Not all of the volunteers out Saturday were veterans of the Baptist group. Staff Sgt. Shane Pogue, who’s based down the road at Fort Bragg, spent his day off working in Parker’s home. He said he linked up with the crew after asking the Red Cross how he could get involved.
“I’m glad I did,” he said. “I knew that they needed help.”
Homeowners like Parker still have a long way to go before they can return home. Once the houses are gutted, volunteer crews will use a spray to kill any remaining mold. Rebuilding typically doesn’t start until the homeowners receive insurance payments or federal or state aid to cover their costs. Baptists on Mission has volunteers with experience in drywall, heating and air conditioning and plumbing to help with the final phase of recovery.
By then, the storm has left the headlines and it can be harder to get enough volunteers, Threatt said. “Everyone comes out right after a disaster,” he said. “By the time you get to the rebuild, a lot of people forget.”
Parker said the initial shock of the flood was “devastating” as she’d thought her home 100 feet or so above the creek would be safe. She’s now staying with a friend and hopes she can move home soon. But she said more volunteers are needed in hard-hit areas like Hope Mills.
“Muscle is what’s needed mostly right now,” she said. “We need strong young men to pull appliances out of houses. We need strong young men that know construction work ... to give us direction on what we’re supposed to do.”
Parker says she’ll be involved in the effort once she clears out her own home, and she’s particularly worried about her next-door neighbor, who lost thousands of dollars in tools he needs for work.
“When my house starts drying out, I’m going to my neighbor’s house to help them,” she said.
How to help
Baptists on Mission can use more volunteers to help prepare and serve meals and assist with cleanup, as well as clearing out flooded homes. The organization is also asking for donations of canned food items, cleaning supplies and diapers, and monetary donations.
For more information on how to volunteer or donate, go to baptistsonmission.org. Checks can be mailed to NCBM, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, N.C. 27512
Other ways to help include:
Salvation Army: To donate money, go online to http://bit.ly/2dKhhuD, call 800-SAL-ARMY or text STORM to 51555. Donations can also be sent via mail to P.O. Box 1959, Atlanta, GA 30301.
Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina: Accepting donations of canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, rice and other food items, as well as baby formula, diapers and other supplies for infants and children. Items can be dropped off at any of the Food Bank’s six locations in North Carolina, including 3808 Tarheel Drive, Raleigh.
To view a full list of requested items, go to http://bit.ly/1sg52tD. To donate money online, go to http://bit.ly/2dauTwe. Donations can also be sent via mail to any of the Food Bank’s locations with the memo line “Matthew.”
North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund: The governor’s office is partnering with United Way of North Carolina, which will act as the administrative organization for the fund. Only financial donations are accepted.
To donate, go to http://bit.ly/2dTx0Hf or mail checks payable to “North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund” to the governor’s office at 20312 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699.
Red Cross: To find a Red Cross blood drive near you, go to http://rdcrss.org/1RzohGb. Blood and platelets are needed. To make a financial donation, call 800-RED CROSS or to make a $10 donation text the word MATTHEW to 90999.
Children’s book drive: The N.C. Department of Cultural and Natural Resources is helping kids who lost their book collection in the flood. New or gently used books may be dropped off at the N.C. Museum of Art, Museum of History, Museum of Natural Sciences or the State Capitol building.