ROBERTSDALE — Volunteers with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief Team remain ready to lend a hand in the wake of disaster.
Steve Brooks, disaster relief coordinator with the Baldwin Baptist Association, said he got the call in the days leading up to Hurricane Sally asking if they would be ready to provide assistance.
“It had been probably 16 years, since Hurricane Ivan, that we had to deal with anything on this scale in Baldwin County,” Brooks said. “But that’s what we’re called to do and we’re ready whenever we get the call.”
Initially, Brooks said, crews set up a staging area at the First Baptist Church in Robertsdale to provide cleanup help for residents.
“We quickly realized, however, that because of the massive amount of cleanup that had to be done and because Baldwin County is so large, we needed to set up additional staging areas,” Brooks said. “We realized that we couldn’t send crews from Robertsdale to Bay Minette. We would only be able to do one job per day and it would take too long to get to everybody that needed help.”
Additional staging areas were set up at the First Baptist Church in Gulf Shores and at the First Baptist Church in Bay Minette, Brooks said.
In the eight weeks following Hurricane Sally, crews responded to 1,300 work orders in Baldwin County, about 800 from the Robertsdale staging area, 300 in Bay Minette and another 200 in Gulf Shores.
A total of 470 volunteers from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kentucky and South Carolina responded, Brooks said.
Primarily the work involved chainsaw crews that cut and hauled away tree limbs. They also put blue tarps on homes with roof damage and performed “mudouts” – going in and cleaning out where homes have been flooded.
Crews also provided feeding stations that can provide meals, primarily for their workers, and partnered with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to provide meals.
They also provided shower units to electrical crews during Hurricane Michael.
Crews don’t just respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters, Brooks said. Crews with the Disaster Relief Team also responded after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, providing relief crews in New York.
“We’ve responded to Oklahoma City, flooding in Missouri and South Texas and all across the Gulf Coast,” Brooks said.
Nationwide, the team has close to 40,000 volunteers that can respond to disasters, which funnel through at the national level to state coordinators, who then contact crews at the local level.
“Most of us are retired,” Brooks said. “The average age is probably 70-plus. You just never know when you’re going to get that call and most people who work a steady schedule have a hard time doing it.”
Last year alone, Brooks said, a group from Baldwin County made three trips to Louisiana and just recently returned from Belle Chasse, La., in response to Hurricane Ida relief.
“Anywhere that help is needed, we are willing to go and volunteer,” Brooks said.
All of the work done by the team is provided for free and the group operates on donations as a non-profit organization. Locally the group functions through the Baldwin Baptist Association, located at 15840 Silverhill Ave. in Silverhill. For more information call 251-945-5112 or visit baldwinbaptist.org. Donations to the group can also be made through local Baptist churches.