Church houses relief workers

Louisiana church’s disaster ministry is built on sheltering first responders who are tasked with helping others

BY CHUCK HUSTMYRE | BATON ROUGE, LA | August 31, 2008


Ankur Tarueja prepares food for first responders who are housed at Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.
Credit: DNN/CHUCK HUSTMYRE

Broadmoor United Methodist Church here has thrown open its doors to provide food and shelter to relief workers in advance of Hurricane Gustav, set to strike the Louisiana coast Monday.

Broadmoor United Methodist Church is part of a network of local churches that have coordinated with the Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church’s disaster response program and the American Red Cross to house relief workers who have been flooding into Louisiana since Thursday, in advance of Gustav's expected landfall.

After the unprecedented devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Broadmoor UMC became a makeshift shelter for relief workers for some 70 days, but it didn't open its shelter until after the storm landed.

This time, things are a lot more organized, says Mike McEuen, Broadmoor UMC's disaster relief coordinator.

Thursday night, 80 workers spent the night on cots in the church auditorium. By Saturday, that number had grown to 200 workers and 20 Red Cross emergency response vehicles stationed in the church parking lot.

"We didn't have this opportunity last time," McEuen says. "The storm was here before we got the chance. This time it's different."

Since Katrina, the church has put together a written disaster response guide, outlining procedures, assignments, and contact information.

This year when danger approached, that guide helped the church's disaster response organizers put their plan into effect four days before the storm.

"We ramped up pretty quickly," McEuen says. "We were able to do that because we have a team."

Three years ago, approximately 18,000 relief workers poured into the Baton Rouge area to help the tens of thousands of people displaced by Katrina but there was nowhere for the workers to stay.

When the Red Cross asked the churches for help, Broadmoor United Methodist and several other churches in the capital city area responded by providing shelter, food, and showers.

The local support for the shelter has been tremendous, according to church staffer Mary Simpson.

Anonymous church members have dropped off clothes, toiletries, and other supplies and volunteered to take home and wash the bagsful of towels the workers use each day.

"People just come," Simpson says. "It's unbelievable. They just want to help."

The latest weather forecasts predict Gustav will strike Louisiana just west of New Orleans sometime Monday morning. One of the challenges facing the local United Methodist relief effort is that Baton Rouge lies in the path of the storm.

Sunday, the Red Cross moved all of its emergency response vehicles and many of its relief workers who had been housed at Broadmoor United to a secondary shelter in Alexandria, La., 130 miles north of Baton Rouge.

"They went to Alexandria because with the storm path coming right through here, they didn't want (the ERVs) to get damaged," McEuen says.

Three years ago, Katrina knocked out Broadmoor UMC's power for two or three days, McEuen recalls. This year, the church has a backup generator that can power the kitchen and the lights.

Since Katrina, and with a funding grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Response has rebuilt 800 Katrina-destroyed homes and provided assistance to 11,500 families, says the Rev. Amy Mercer, deputy director of the Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church's disaster response.

With Gustav's approach, Mercer says she is worried a lot of that work might be undone.

"Everybody is in a prepare and wait mode," she says.


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