Chris Coram watched as the Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief trucks rolled into the North Jacksonville Baptist Church parking lot in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday night.
“It was quite humbling to see the big disaster relief trucks here to help my city,” said Coram, who serves as associate pastor of North Jacksonville Baptist Church. “And it is an honor to assist the volunteers and teams with KBDR by hosting them at our church. It is amazing how hearing the words, ‘What can I do for you?’ touches your heart.”
Though Coram, along with his wife, Susie, had to immediately evacuated their home near the beach due to Hurricane Matthew, they soon discovered that their church was safe to host disaster relief teams from out of state. They happily volunteered to be a host site.
“Though there was no substantial damage to our community, just some fallen oak trees and power outages, it was nice to provide people with warm meals they could no longer cook at home,” Coram said. “As part of a host site, you get to witness Jesus’ love in action through what the KBDR folks are doing. And they’re not just cooking. They’re handing out tracts with our church’s name on it. They are sharing the Gospel while serving areas of need.”
So far, two professions of faith have been made in the North Jacksonville Baptist Church parking lot as relates to the storm.
“One young man showed up from the community to help erect the tent that KBDR was using,” Coram said. “It was a tough tent to put together as it was so large, yet after helping with the tent the man stayed to learn why we were all doing what we were doing. He gave his heart to Christ from that experience.”
The other profession of faith was from a volunteer with another organization who came from South Dakota to help Hurricane Matthew survivors.
The 45 KBDR volunteers manning the mobile kitchens, shower units and chainsaw equipment were late due to unanticipated amounts of traffic, yet still reached Jacksonville by nightfall with enough time to begin serving those suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“Though we were a bit behind schedule, we managed to get the kitchen up and running the next day,” KBDR volunteer Carolyn Gray said.
The first meal served was chicken tenders, stewed potatoes and corn to a hungry lot of 3,000 hurricane survivors.
“The staff at North Jacksonville Baptist Church helped us out and have been nothing but gracious and accommodating to us as we serve their community of 3,000 hurricane survivors,” said Grey. “They’ve fed us, the volunteers, as we’ve fed people, and they helped us identify streets and neighborhoods in Jacksonville that were hit the hardest.”
North Jacksonville Baptist is currently one of three Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) feeding sites in Florida. The other sites include First Baptist Church (Flagler) in Palm Coast and Turning Point Baptist Church in St. Augustine.
Already, Gray and the other KBDR volunteers at North Jacksonville Baptist estimate serving a smaller number of meals—around 600—during Tuesday’s dinner service.
“We’ve been told that things may slow down soon for our site in Jacksonville as people make their way home,” said Gray. “There’s still some damage to their homes here but not as much as was anticipated. We may soon begin the trek north to aid SBDR teams there.
"It’s a short number of meals, but we’ve already had four professions of faith at North Jacksonville church,” Gray added. “Even if we’re not here to feed the thousands, we can still reach and save a life. And that’s worth it all.”
Currently, SBDR volunteers from nine states are already involved in the response, including Indiana, Ohio, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Volunteers from Mississippi and Tennessee are prepared to respond as assessments determine the areas of greatest need.
Though most of the kitchens in Florida and Georgia likely will cease by the weekend, other recovery work will continue.
Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Sarah Jo Fimble says FBDR is working alongside the state of Florida on assessments that she hopes will identify and secure the immediate areas of need.
“It’s been a busy few days after Hurricane Matthew hit,” Fimble said. “As we go out on assessment in Florida, we’re also preparing to support our neighbors to the north. North and South Carolina were hit pretty hard; that might be where the extent of damage from Hurricane Matthew is.”
Coram, who is back home after three days and only dealing with a neighborhood power outage, is simply thankful that Hurricane Matthew’s damage wasn’t as extensive as projections made it out to be.
“We’re all grateful that, in our community, no lives were lost,” said Coram. “And, we continue to pray for the families of those who lost their lives in Haiti, as well as for the volunteers and people’s safety in other more affected areas hurt by Hurricane Matthew.”
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-6262 or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
Josie Rabbitt is a writer for the North American Mission Board.