10/09/05 — Taking hope to Mississippi

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Taking hope to Mississippi

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on October 9, 2005 2:04 AM

The woman walked over to where members of the North Carolina Baptist Men's Relief Program were working to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"Are you the angels God sent?" she asked.

"No," said Ray Gales of Love Memorial Baptist Church in Wayne County. "We're just five old men."

He laughs as he remembers the comment, and is touched when he talks about the people the volunteer relief workers have helped.

The woman who asked him that question was a widow who was living on a limited income, he said, and she wanted to make a donation.

Members of the Neuse Baptist Association, headquartered in LaGrange, have been among the people participating in the North Carolina Baptist Men's Relief Program since before Katrina struck. They were put on alert as people awaited the storm, and have been traveling to the flood-affected areas in groups ever since.

Thus far, 60 people from Goldsboro have either made the trip or are getting ready to, said David Quick, the coordinator for Goldsboro and a member of Madison Avenue Baptist.

This is not the first disaster whose victims they have helped. They began getting involved after witnessing a dramatic event: other volunteers coming to Wayne County to help them after Hurricane Floyd destroyed houses and businesses.

Trucks parked in the parking lot at Madison Avenue Baptist Church, as did a tractor-trailer that served as a feeding unit. While there, the volunteers served 1.2 million meals, Quick said.

Not only were people who came to the parking lot served, meals were given to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to carry to those in need, including in the particularly hard-hit Seven Springs.

This made an impression, Quick said.

Since then, churches in Wayne County have become involved. They have been to the beach when hurricanes struck and are playing a role helping those hurt by Rita. But right now, most of the attention is on the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Neuse Baptist Association's volunteers have a number of specialties, and who is called to serve is based on what is needed at the time. Units include mass feeding, disaster relief (such as cutting trees off of houses), temporary emergency child care and a laundry unit.

The materials are located in tractor-trailers.

For example, the laundry unit is in an 18-wheeler and has washers, dryers and a generator.

One Saturday, 88 loads of laundry were washed in it, Quick said.

Another tractor-trailer has shower units. The women's is one side; the men's is on the other. People get a towel and soap, take a shower, and return the towel which is then laundered.

The child care unit has all the items needed to set up a temporary child care center. The center can be set up within a couple of hours, said Ingrid Quick, who has been certified as a blue hat (leader) in that area.

Training is required for each specialty.

"Each year, the state association has five training sessions," Quick said. "Churches send volunteers to be trained and certified."

"We have to retrain every three years," Mrs. Quick said.

"Once you complete training, you get a yellow badge," Quick said. "It is recognized across the state. You can go into an area under curfew, show the badge and the tag on your vehicle and get in."

Volunteers take vacation time from their jobs to make the trips.

The Neuse Baptist Association provides gasoline and lodging. Lodging can be a floor to sleep on. Meals come from the feeding unit.

"If you're lucky, there is air conditioning," Mrs. Quick said, smiling.

Volunteers put in long hours caring for children so that their parents can take care of necessary business, such as filling out forms and checking on their homes.

They also put in long hours cutting down trees and running feeding lines.

Both men and women do the work as part of the Baptist Men organization.

What they don't get in material goods is more than made up for by what they receive emotionally, they said.

"This is a good way to spread the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ," Gales said. "Not only do we cut trees but, if we get the chance, we talk about Jesus. I just love helping other people."

And he is touched by how people receive them.

He tells how he and other members of Love Memorial stopped at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Meridian, Miss., before beginning their week of volunteer work. A man came to their table and began talking to them about what they were planning to do.

After the man left, his son walked over and placed $20 on their table. "Let me buy you supper," he said.

Charles McRae, also a member of Love Memorial, recalls a man they helped who gave them a new jack so they could help others as well. Another time, the volunteers went to a store to buy chain saws. Once the store owner knew what the saws were going to be used for, he would not let them pay.

Meridian "was a very kind, appreciative community," McRae said.

Quick's work is administrative and done in Wayne County. He said he does it "to serve and show God's love. When people are whipped by disaster, they often wonder, 'Why me?' 'Why did this have to happen?' Someone has to show God's love."

"Too many times we get tied up in things that are insignificant," Mrs. Quick said. "Something like this makes you realize how short life is."

The volunteers who go to the disaster areas are there for the same reason, she said, adding, "It lifts you up."