By Caleb Mynatt
After Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana in August 2021, there has understandably been a scramble to pick up the pieces. The storm prompted a nationwide disaster response, one to which the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship continues to contribute as long-term recovery efforts persist.
Andy Hale, senior pastor at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, has helped oversee CBF’s efforts from there. Although Hale and his congregation were able to avoid the worst of the storm after Ida unexpectedly shifted 20 miles east, their friends and family in Houma, La., experienced the worst of it.
“We have strong connections with the area,” said Hale. “We have some church members from there and a staff member from there. We know firsthand that it was absolutely devastated.”
With roads destroyed, it was and continues to be a struggle to get the necessary supplies to the people living in the areas most affected. Even basic necessities like toilet paper, diapers and non-perishable food items have been hard to come by as the area waits for the supply chain of goods to fully return to normal. That puts even more pressure on those trying to help to make sure they’re getting things that are actually needed.
“I think it’s a very important lesson when it comes to disaster response,” said Hale. “We tend to think of what people might want versus what they actually need. In a case, like this one, where there are no supplies, it’s really important for us to get people the bare necessities.”
Thanks to University Baptist Church’s connection to Houma, CBF has been able to do just that. CBF disaster response leaders are able to see and hear about the help CBF’s donations are providing in real time. There is an assurance that CBF’s disaster response is making a difference right now, something for which the families affected by the storm are immensely grateful.
“The unique benefit of having a personal connection to the area is incredible,” said Hale. “We know what we’re providing is making a difference now as opposed to the provisions getting stored in some warehouse somewhere.”
One of the highlights of this disaster response effort has been how collaborative and widespread it has been. CBF churches from all over the country have donated supplies and money to help the people of Houma and eastern Louisiana. But, according to Hale, no church has done more than Central Baptist Church, a small congregation located in Daytona Beach, Florida.
After Central Baptist heard about the recovery effort, they contacted Hale and asked for specifics on how they could help. That prompted a donation bigger than multiple other congregations combined.
“Central Baptist Church provided an entire truck and trailer-load of supplies, which was more than several other congregations combined,” said Hale. “It was pretty remarkable. A small congregation saw that they could do their part in a big way.”
Given the known need for supplies and necessities, CBF launched a 1000-bucket challenge to help the relief efforts. This challenge, designed to provide the most utility possible to those affected, involves filling buckets with necessary goods and supplies so they can be delivered directly to families in the area through a network of volunteer drivers. Buckets are useful because they are easy to transport and can be delivered all over the affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. And, given the success that it has seen, it’s an idea that could go into effect even as preparation for hurricane season begins.
“I think that this bucket challenge has really become something in which people have engaged,” said Dr. Daynette Snead Perez, CBF Disaster Response director. “It’s something in which people can really participate, producing something tangible that will help others.”
The buckets are also uniquely helpful because they provide a way people can engage even given the obstacles at this time. Disaster Response, especially in this context, is typically a very “close contact” ministry, according to Snead Perez. Due to the still-looming COVID-19 pandemic, that makes a traditional disaster response effort nearly impossible. Still, the CBF community has found a way to be effective, given the circumstances, which is encouraging as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
“The beauty of our Fellowship is that we are connected, and that people want to make a difference even if they can’t be there to swing a hammer or clean out some mold,” said Hale. “They’re doing their part based on their skillset, giftedness and circumstances.”
“We’ve tried to make sure that we are still engaging with disaster response even though CBF can’t really bring volunteers into the area right now,” said Snead Perez. “We have simply created a different type of response based on our abilities at this time.”
As for preparing for future hurricanes, which are getting more frequent and more destructive, the approach is two-pronged. With the knowledge that these disasters are inevitable, year-round planning is almost a necessity. The bucket challenge can assist in that effort, but there’s also the need to seriously combat climate change. That effort will require mobilization and letting lawmakers know that it’s time to get serious about an issue that is causing so much destruction, according to Hale.
“It’s about being proactive,” said Hale. “We need to be contacting our state representatives and letting them know that we care about policies that will help curb climate change and make a lasting impact.”
Learn more about the work of CBF Disaster Response at www.cbf.net/dr.