Experience shapes response at home

BY SUSAN KIM | GOLDSBORO, N.C. | October 13, 1999

GOLDSBORO, N.C. (Oct. 13, 1999) -- The day before Hurricane Dennis

hit, nearly a month ago, the Rev. Butch Huffman was loading up at the

airport in Raleigh with a 12-person Volunteers In Mission (VIM) team

departing for Jamaica.

They caught the weather forecast and decided not to go. "I came back

to Goldsboro, picked up seven people, and went to the Outer Banks to

do cleanup from Hurricane Dennis," said Huffman.

Then came Floyd. "The day after we got back, the streets started to

flood," he recalled.

Huffman hasn't made it to Jamaica yet. Instead, he pulled out his

disaster response manual from training he'd had through the United

Methodist Committee on Relief. He's been using it ever since.

"It's been amazing how the knowledge has been coming out and becoming

useful," he said. But he's being somewhat modest. Huffman, pastor at

Daniels Memorial United Methodist Church, is chair of the VIM

committee for the North Carolina United Methodist conference, and has

been involved with disaster response training for years.

In the weeks since Floyd hit, he's been traveling to different United

Methodist districts to explain the rudiments of disaster response,

from filling out Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork, to

coordinating volunteers, to sanitizing homes.

And, like any seasoned professional he's got some dedicated

behind-the-scenes help. Church member Bob Bloodworth has been

learning about disaster response simply by being plopped in the

middle of the real thing.

Coached by Huffman, Bloodworth began his response at the best

possible time - before the storms hit. "Bob, prior to the storm, got

a volunteer group of about nine church members to call and check on

all our church members," said Huffman.

Now, Huffman and Bloodworth are at the hub of response that's meeting

local needs, thanks to hands-on help from volunteers and a new policy

regarding disaster response from the North Carolina United Methodist


"In the past, disaster assistance funds came down from the conference

office," explained Huffman. "Now, local churches are reaching out to

their members, then notifying their district with leftover unmet

needs, then notifying the conference."

This approach has led to local church-to-church contact that has spawned

enthusiastic response from volunteers across North Carolina. That

enthusiasm became one of Bloodworth's first challenges when he began

coordinating volunteers.

"Right after the storm hit, everybody wanted to come and help - right

then!" said Bloodworth. "It's hard to make people understand why we

have to make them wait."

But when the waters cleared, and emergency response was waning,

Bloodworth opened the floodgates - for volunteers. First, though, he

realized the value of damage assessment, finding it was easier to

gauge the need if he walked door-to-door in the community.

"You have to see it (the damage) before you know what's needed -- how

many people? What equipment?"

Bloodworth also takes calls for help that he simply can't answer.

"People will call and say 'I have a huge tree that fell on my house

and I need some volunteers to help remove it.' Well, we don't have

that kind of equipment or expertise. So I give them some contacts for

tree removal."

Huffman's previous disaster response training also helped the church

avoid what many people call 'the second disaster' -- or clothing

donations that overrun relief centers, churches, and entire


"We said from the very start, if you announce you're collecting

clothes, you'd better give out your address, not mine," said Huffman.

Bloodworth added that the only clothes they ended up accepting were

new clothes with the sales receipt attached so they could be returned.

The church, which has been coordinating volunteers of all faiths, has

received both sought-after and unasked-for support. "Some of our

members from the army base live in Florida," said Huffman. "They

called to check on us. A former minister here gave a $500 check, and

the Bible Methodist Church in New Jersey sent $1,000 -- that's our

choir director's brother-in-law's church."

"We've had another person call who just received an inheritance and

hasn't tithed it yet," he added. "They're planning to send a check

for $6,000. And my brother's church is adopting a family from this


Generous as it sounds, more funds and more volunteers will be needed

to meet ongoing and widespread need throughout the state. "I'm up to

my ears in volunteers right now," admitted Bloodworth, "But when the

publicity about this starts to die, I'm going to have a hard time

finding enough people."

Huffman expressed concern about the approach of the holiday season,

when depression can hit many disaster survivors hard. "One way they

responded to the North Dakota floods was that the bishop's wife got

plastic containers and filled them with Christmas decorations for

people who'd lost everything," he said, "and we hope to do that here,


Whatever the type of response -- as long as it's not used clothes --

both Huffman and Bloodworth said they welcome innovative ways of

helping and volunteers of all faiths. "It's not the denomination that

counts, it's the spirit," Bloodworth said.

The church, celebrating its homecoming service, welcomed former

pastor Jean Hood, who shared his pride about the way the community

pulled together. "People may wonder -- how can we worship a God when

there's flooding here, flooding in Mexico, and disaster all over. But

-- have you ever seen the world more together than it is right now?

We've made new friends and we've found new understanding through

tragedy. When people pull together, all things do work for good."

Posted October 13, 1999

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