BY MARTIN BUTLER, associate communication director of the Florida Conference
Adventist Community Team Services (ACTS), a lay-driven group of volunteer disaster responders, immediately went into action with Florida Conferences Adventist Community Services (ACS) to bring help, hope, and healing to the devastated Gulf Coast after it was hit by Hurricane Katrinas 145-mile-per-hour winds on August 29.
The first stage of relief operations brought together 11 emergency supply-filled vehicles at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs on Tuesday, August 30one day after Hurricane Katrina hit. Plans called for the team to head for Mobile, Alabama, to help set up an Adventist-operated disaster warehouse for the state.
As Dale Bass, ACTS director, and David Canther, ACS director, traveled west on Wednesday morning, word came that the neighborhood surrounding the assigned facility remained under water. While praying for a place to redirect the convoy, a plea for help came from Bass Memorial Academy (BMA) in Lumberton, Mississippi, where downed trees and stripped rooftops littered the campus. The two directors felt impressed to take the group there first to help restore the campus so students could return to classes.
Upon arriving at BMA Wednesday evening, the ACTS/ACS team learned they were the only emergency crew present in Lamar County with relief food and fresh water for its 42,000 residents. Immediately, their two 48-foot mobile kitchens were opened at sites in Purvis, the county seat, and at BMA, where campus-cleanup volunteers were fed alongside people from the community. Within the first seven days, more than 70,000 meals were served.
During that first week, about 150 Florida Conference church members came to help, including a busload of 40 students from Forest Lake Academy (FLA). Students served meals, unloaded and sorted truckloads of donations, and, under a large tent, distributed emergency supplies and packaged care boxes for area residents.
Even as volunteers handed out depleting supplies, truckload after truckload arrived with replacements. That reassuring fact didnt come, however, without a test of faith three days after the ACTS/ACS team arrived.
It was Sabbath morning, September 1. Students who had come from Andrews University and Southern Adventist University were scheduled to serve food and water to the surrounding area during a Community Outreach Day, yet they knew the bottled water supply had run dry.
Think about the most important thing you have that you could give away, because a principle of Gods kingdom is that you must give in order to receive, challenged Canther.
Some of them looked at me like Id fallen off a locomotive, because they knew the most important things in their possession were the bottles of water next to their sleeping bags. But they prayed and then loaded up the water and went out to build up the community.
When the kids returned, there were two semi-truckloads of water waiting. Many responded, This is the first time weve seen a miracle right before our eyes.
That weekend, 35 young people committed their lives anew to the Lord, says Canther. Their greatest statement was, Our lives have truly been changed here by becoming a part of the action. Now we realize that God can use us. We want to choose vocations in which we can help others.
Meanwhile, back home in Florida, local church and individual collection efforts resulted in the delivery of a continuous stream of food and supplies. Semi-trailers parked at Forest Lake Academy, Forest Lake Church, and in southern Florida were filled, picked up, and delivered free of charge by commercial trucking companies. In addition, Orlandos Northland Community Church partnered with ACS in collecting and shipping truckloads of additional supplies.
Donated funds from members of the Forest Lake and Florida Hospital churches, along with a gift from Forest Lakes Thrift Store, resulted in a $24,000 purchase from Sysco Food Service of Central Florida, the food supplier for the cafeteria at Forest Lake Academy. Pat Marshall, food service director at FLA, meticulously planned menus before ordering the 900 price-reduced cases and 27,000-plus pounds of food that would provide another 54,000 meals.
Adventist congregations throughout Florida, including those in Altamonte Springs and Silver Springs Shores, hosted food-and-supply collection drives while others, such as Palm Harbor, collected funds to send.
Residents of Lamar County and Waveland recognize it was Adventist church members who were there to provide a hot meal and cool water in time of need, says Canther. This realization prompted one woman to say with tears in her eyes, Thank you, and God bless you. You dont know how much we appreciate people like you.
Beatrice Hill, Gulf States Conference church member and Adventurer/Pathfinder leader, shared her heartfelt thoughts with Forest Lake Academy staff and students regarding their presence:
Thank you so much for your help. Words cant adequately express my deep appreciation for what you have done for the community and Bass Memorial Academy. You have given me hope and brought hope back to the students and staff of our campus, as well as our community.
Your willingness to help us; your faithfulness in doing the tasks assigned; and your gift of time, kindness, and friendship have meant so much. Thank you for being angels in human form!
Forest Lake, you have warmed my heart and made me realize the youth of today do make, and will continue to make, marvelous contributions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. You are worthy of the name Christian. You are the BEST!
Even as the Florida ACTS/ACS team continued serving Lamar County beyond that first week, they responded to an urgent request from the Red Cross to relocate one of their 48-foot semi-trailer mobile kitchens in Waveland, Mississippi. Here, 100 volunteersincluding a second busload of students from Forest Lake Academyserved as the hands and feet of Jesus at the only mass feeding/distribution center in this coastal city that was destroyed by a storm surge reaching 29 feet.
By the end of the second week, more than 154,000 hot meals were served from three mobile kitchen sites in Lamar County and Waveland. During this time, 155 semi-truckloads of donated food and supplies arrived for distribution. Heading into the third week, operations were scaling back at Bass Memorial Academy, with major focus shifting to Waveland.
Employees of the Adventist Church World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, have donated almost $16,000 for hurricane relief efforts, $15,000 of which is being matched by the General Conference Treasury Department. According to Deicy Pongilatan, coordinator of donation receipting of the GC Treasury Department, as of September 21 the combined total given to Adventist Community Services, ADRA, and Adventist Relief from this matching plan is $30,700.76.AR.