Dedicated DR volunteers shower love on Matthew survivors

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Returning to her St. Augustine Beach home after evacuating for Hurricane Matthew, Lelia Druzdis found it flooded with two feet of brackish and sewage-contaminated water that had soaked into her furniture, walls and cabinets.

“I didn’t have any hope. Until the yellow hats showed up,” the homeowner said.

The “yellow hats” were Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who arrived at her home one morning and spent hours discarding furniture, cabinets, flooring and wallboard, and spraying the remaining studs with chemicals to stop mold from spreading.

“I’m still in shock. I’ve never seen such an outpouring of love,” said Druzdis. “They are amazing, I didn’t know they existed and can’t believe the kindness they showed us.”

But she was especially moved, she said, her eyes brimming with tears, that “we started it all with a prayer. I didn’t realize how much that grounded me” as she watched all of her belongings tossed as trash on the edge of the road.

The FBDR volunteers were part of a nearly month long mobilization to help Northeast and Central Florida residents recover after Hurricane Matthew pummeled the coastline Oct. 6-7.

While the Category 3 storm never made landfall in the state, its path from Melbourne to Jacksonville was strewn with destruction, damage and debris.

The multi-faceted response of Florida Baptists included sending heavy equipment and chainsaw crews to remove downed trees and tarp damaged roofs and clean up and recovery teams to repair homes and remediate mold. More than two weeks after the storm, FBDR had job requests from 430-plus families in Duval, Flagler, St. Johns, Putnam and Volusia counties and by the end of the month, had completed—or cleared—375 of these jobs. An additional 149 assignments were handled by local FBDR teams in Melbourne.

According to FBDR Director Delton Beall, local Florida Baptist churches and associations also pitched in to meet needs in their communities. “We could not have done it without the local volunteers who came to help.”

Another dimension of the response was deploying mass feeding kitchens to provide hot meals for survivors living without power, emergency responders and volunteers. The day after the storm, FBDR established a feeding kitchen at Palm Coast Baptist Church; Alabama Baptists set up a feeding kitchen at Turning Point Baptist Church in St. Augustine; and Kentucky Baptists operated a kitchen at North Jacksonville Baptist Church. From these locations, American Red Cross personnel transported food to those in need. By the end of the FBDR deployment, 53,380 meals were prepared and served.

Among the meals prepared was a last-minute call to the FBDR team in Palm Coast by the local National Guard. Their time as emergency responders had been extended yet no meal plans had been made. After contacting FBDR, hot meals were prepared and delivered by military transport.

“Disaster relief is a ministry that is focused upon mobilizing churches to make a difference and is dependent upon churches to stand with and lead out in engaging their members in serving,” said Beall.  “Because churches are willing to offer themselves and their facilities the ministry has a long lasting presence in the community.”

Without local churches opening their facilities and parking areas to become staging areas and operation centers for disaster relief ministry, the work could not be done as effectively, he added. “When survivors meet DR teams that are made up of volunteers from different Florida Baptist churches it strengthens the testimony of the power and value of cooperation.

“I thank the churches that opened their facilities, adjusted their calendars, and changed their plans so that DR teams could serve.”

By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, November 8, 2016

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