Vicky Newman | News-Herald
Volunteers Carl Lord of Lenoir City and Larry Kirkland of Loudon are shown in front of the new disaster relief concessions trailer obtained by the Loudon County Baptist Association and Southern Baptist Convention. Donations from member churches and a SBC grant paid for the trailer.
Across the northeastern United States and up and down the Atlantic seaboard, emergency and disaster relief officials were bracing for Hurricane Sandy.
What followed after the storm made landfall was a wide swath of destruction and impact on an estimated 60 million people. Command centers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross are in the midst of response.
In Loudon County, volunteers were on alert and preparing to be activated. A brand new, outfitted disaster relief concessions trailer sat behind the Loudon County Baptist Convention and additional coffee pots were being installed for what perhaps would be its maiden mission.
"This has been a dream of mine for five or six years," Lenoir City volunteer Carl Lord said. A member of Calvary Baptist Church, Lord has been working as a disaster relief volunteer for 23 years and is responsible for coordinating the supply of drinks to volunteers from Tennessee who are activated for national disasters.
He coordinates the provision of water, coffee, lemonade and whatever is needed by those who are working to help others. The concession trailer was a need often noted by Lord.
"Usually, we are called out to feed 15,000 to 35,000 a day and we go through 60 gallons of coffee a day. When we are ready to be sent out, equipment may be in up to three vehicles, so it's hard to get it set up. I thought if I had a trailer I could pull and open up to get started," he said.
The dream became reality.
Last spring, Lord discussed the situation with Phil Holmes, Loudon County Baptist Association director, and a plan was developed for a concessions trailer, similar to those used at football games, with coffee makers, ice makers, sinks and water tanks.
"So many churches have trailers for disaster relief," Holmes said. "There are shower trailers, laundry trailers, trailers to do mass feedings. ... We didn't feel it would be a benefit to duplicate those. Trailers would set idle with so many out there."
Disaster relief has come into focus in recent years, nationally and internationally, as disastrous hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and more continue to increase. The Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief Training site and Mission Mobilization Center - complete with warehouses, office spaces and more - is being constructed by the Tennessee Baptist Convention at Mount Juliet. The 20-acre site is centrally located in Middle Tennessee near Nashville.
"Mount Juliet will be our permanent home," Lord, who is a construction coordinator for the facility, said. "It will have a 32,000-square-foot facility, 20,000 of it is warehouse space. It will be our main training center for disaster relief training."
While FEMA coordinates national disaster relief efforts since Sept. 11, 2001, the Red Cross and churches across the country actually provide volunteer workers. Red Cross partners with the Southern Baptist Convention. Volunteers must be trained, certified and cleared by background checks for the opportunity to work.
"The Red Cross and FEMA furnish hot meals in disaster areas, but we do the cooking," Lord said. "We (the Tennessee Baptist Convention) have feeding units that are usually called out to feed 15,000 to 30,000 a day, and up to 35,000."
Volunteers from individual churches are on standby for mobilization. First Baptist Church of Lenoir City has a chain saw crew of volunteers that sometimes is called to respond to disaster areas. Dick DeMerchant, who is over FBCLC disaster relief volunteers, said 47 people from the church are involved in disaster relief ministry.
"We've had this seven or eight years. We got involved when the Tennessee Baptist Convention took on disaster relief," he said. "We have 47 trained and certified volunteers and they have been called up several times, to Alabama, the Gulf Coast and Louisiana to open up avenues down there or provide mass feedings.
"The way it works, you can get training and certification in areas from chain saw to roof repair or construction crew chief," DeMerchant said. "Every three years they have to be recertified."
Ralph Holder and Jack Lee are also leaders in local disaster relief efforts, DeMerchant said. "I rely on them a lot," he said.
Volunteers have responded to distant disasters as well as for near neighbors.
"When Greenback was hit (with the tornado in 2011), we were there helping get things cleared. We've done a lot of building and roof repairs," DeMerchant said. "We're on standby now by the Tennessee Baptist Convention. If they send us we will find out who is able to go and send a tractor and trailer. We will pack up in a day or so and go."
Most churches and denominations have become involved in disaster relief ministries. However, Lord said the largest disaster relief ministry in the world is run by the SBC. Texas is the largest state disaster relief ministry, but Tennessee, with about 15,000 certified and trained volunteers, runs close behind.
Larry Kirkland, a member of Loudon's Blairland Baptist Church, was getting his truck serviced in preparation to be activated by TBC.
"We're ready to roll," Kirkland said. "The state of Virginia will be first to be called when we're mobilizing. I talked to the director and we are second on call. We may leave this week."
Kirkland is an over-the-road driver who has worked as a volunteer since 9/11. Like Lord, he has worked disasters all over the country and beyond.
"During 9/11, I took a load of supplies to NYC for a North Carolina Baptist church. Then I got involved in Tennessee Disaster Relief," he said. "It is a ministry, a calling. I just got back from Louisiana for (Hurricane) Isaac. I was driving a truck for North American Mission Board." Kirkland remains in big demand.
"I am staying a lot busier," he said. "From April to October, I hauled hay to Texas where they had drought and wildfires from Wisconsin and Tennessee. Sometimes I go out of country."
When mobilized for Hurricane Sandy, Kirkland will go to Knoxville and get 100,000 pounds of food to carry to New York.
"We can go through a trailer and a half a day when we serve 35,000 meals," he said. "We feed everybody - we don't discriminate. Utility workers, volunteers, disaster victims, jail workers ... we give all the food out and it's hot, cooked meals, not sandwiches. We serve meat, vegetables and dessert."
There are 3,000 Tennessee Baptist churches that help with disaster relief and the efforts are totally supported by donations with no federal funding. Whenever possible, volunteers sleep in churches at their destination to save money.