After Superstorm Sandy wrecked much of the East Coast in October, volunteer organizations mobilized to help those in affected areas.
The Rev. Kenton Hunt, the pastor at First Southern Baptist Church, 89 Kimble Hill Road, was a volunteer with one of those organizations – Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.
“Disaster relief is one of those areas where Christians of all stripes do very well in working together,” Hunt said. “It’s about as well-oiled a machine as a volunteer and spontaneous organization can be.”
Sandy struck an area about 940 miles in diameter. The scale of disaster was far too great for just the federal and state governments to relieve those in immediate need of food, water and medical assistance.
“Every time (a disaster) happens volunteers show up and get the work done – government knows it can’t do it all,” Hunt said. “The cooperation brings me to tears to be honest, it’s completely amazing.”
Hunt arrived in Hammonton, N.J., on Oct. 31 and spent 18 days with a Southern Baptist mobile feeding unit in the parking lot of Ancora Psychiatric Hospital.
“We must have done 11,000 or 12,000 meals in 18 days, working with a feeding unit from South Carolina,” Hunt said. “The unit is a trailer of some type with commercial kitchen equipment in it, and we were making lunch and dinner, as well as breakfast for volunteers.”
Kitchen staff started making breakfast at 4:30 a.m., then began lunch at 6 a.m.
“Meals were loaded into emergency response vehicles driven by volunteers to wherever it was going to – then the containers came back and we washed, sanitized and stored them,” Hunt said. “We were serving 24 routes. The ERVs have loudspeakers – someone gets on the mic and says ‘hey, supper’s ready’ and then they dish it out into little clamshells.”
The hospital opened space for volunteers’ quarters.
“It was one of the best working situations I’ve ever seen – we had 50 or 60 volunteers there at one time,” Hunt said. “One of our biggest obstacles was getting the garbage company to come and empty the 40-yard Dumpster.”
Once the area became self-sustaining, the kitchens in Hammonton were shut down. The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief effort still is ongoing, though.
“We’ve been mobilizing teams on Long Beach Island to go into affected homes and gut them for rehabilitation, we call them mud-out jobs,” Hunt said. “The goal is to get the resident to a place where they’re able to rebuild.”
Hunt has volunteered in disaster relief efforts since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. A mobile feeding station was in his church’s parking lot during the 1996 flooding in this region.
The Southern Baptists are just one of 53 organizations, of which 36 are faith-based, who make up National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. These organizations have “memorandums of understanding” with the United States government that allow for rapid responses to disaster, without worrying about red tape.
“The Red Cross is tasked with the mass care element – they don’t get any governmental assistance,” Hunt said. “They’re in charge of, for the most part, with the mass feeding that takes place our arrangement with the Red Cross is they ask us to bring the kitchens and have volunteers to make food for us.”
Disasters bring out volunteers from all faiths, Hunt said.
“You see Mennonites and Brethren who come on foot sometimes this is just my little piece of the universe,” Hunt said. “You multiply that, and that’s how this work gets done this is what happens every time a disaster strikes.”