(Photo: Hope Force International)
As families across the nation prepare their Thanksgiving Day dinners, victims of Hurricane Sandy can be thankful for the more than 1.2 million meals that have been served to them by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers since the storm hit.
In all, over 1,200 SBDR volunteers from 34 states and Canada have responded to provide disaster relief following the superstorm that ravaged the East Coast, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) reports in a disaster relief update on its website. These volunteers have also reported that 56 people have made professions of faith in Jesus Christ as a result of the organization's work.
But victims of the storm aren't the only ones who are glad the SBDR team is lending a helping hand.
An emergency medical technician who was deployed to help with evacuations and medical operations in the area recently sent an email of thanks to Terry Henderson, disaster relief director for Texas Baptist Men, and said he had been at work in the region for two weeks under "less than ideal conditions" but was appreciative of the way SBDR volunteers served the EMTs.
"All of us are exhausted, stressed and homesick and most of us have been living in our ambulances for the entire deployment. A nice home-cooked meal and smiling faces are a very welcomed sight," the emergency worker wrote, according to the relief update. "Also the hot showers and ability to do our laundry will not be overlooked either. Again I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your arrival has made a very tough mission more bearable."
There are a total of 82,000 trained volunteers in the SBDR network, which is coordinated by NAMB from its Alpharetta, Ga.-based disaster operations center. The organization also has 1,550 mobile units that can provide food, power, childcare, shower, laundry and a host of other services, and it is one of the three largest disaster relief organizations in terms of volunteers along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Volunteers from many organizations will sacrifice time away from their families this Thanksgiving Day in order to continue their work helping needy hurricane victims. Jack Minton, founder and president of Hope Force International (HFI), told The Christian Post on Wednesday that many HFI volunteers are "honored" to work straight through the holiday, though a Thanksgiving meal has been planned for them to enjoy together.
"The way we describe what we do is a 'terrible privilege.' Nobody wanted these situations to happen, and our particular belief is, as followers of Jesus, we should be here," said Minton.
His volunteers are helping primarily with flood remediation in Atlantic City, N.J., where he says the hurricane's impact has proved to be more "traumatic than dramatic." Homes haven't been swept off their foundations, as was the case in some areas further north, but the damage is still devastating.
Minton believes that, at the moment, the "loudest expression of the Gospel" is physically helping the hurricane's victims in the recovery process. In the area HFI is focusing on, he says, the median household income is around $30,000 and over 26 percent of people live below the poverty level. Those who live there were barely scraping a living together before, and now they – especially those who didn't have or simply couldn't afford flood insurance – are in desperate need of outside help
Early on, Minton says, many people in the area feared they would be overlooked by relief organizations. HFI responded to the area quickly, though, and since then the American Red Cross and Samaritan's Purse have also begun working in the area.
But for all of the physical effort being exerted by HFI volunteers – and by volunteers from other Christian organizations for that matter – they are making a spiritual impact as well. Minton tells those he helps that his organization's work is an expression of God's love for them, and volunteers are encouraged to listen to and pray with those who need comfort.
One recipient of HFI's help told Minton the other day: "Your teams came in and they served and did a great job. We needed that help, but when they stopped and prayed with us on top of doing that, it really just imparted a blessing and I'll never forget that."
The total economic damage from the hurricane is still undetermined, but estimates released by Eqecat Inc. on Nov. 1 show post-landfall losses of between $10 and $20 billion in insured losses and $30 to $50 billion in total economic damage.