A place to lay a weary head

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2005

First Baptist Church of LaPlace sheltering 200 Salvation Army workers



LAPLACE — Relief work for hurricanes has many layers.

And once you begin to peel back the layers, it is amazing to see the volunteer help that goes into people helping people.

No better case could be made than what is happening at First Baptist Church of LaPlace, where Pastor Bobby Burt said he knew from the beginning of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that his congregation should play a major role in supporting the relief effort.

“We felt all along that our church would be a staging area to help in a big way, but we didn’t know how,” Burt said this week. “And then God provided the means through the Salvation Army.”

Just over a week ago the Salvation Army moved its entire relief effort for the region to LaPlace, setting up at the old K-Mart building on Airline Highway. However many people who are impressed with the actual operation may not think as far into what it takes to house and support the many volunteers at that site.

Enter First Baptist of LaPlace.

“We had been praying about how to help in this relief effort,” Minister of Education Bob Naughton said. “And when I went by New Wine Fellowship one day, I saw what we now call a ‘yellow shirt.’ That turned out to be the Southern Baptist Texas group coming to town to help the Army.”

Naughton inquired about how his church could help and was immediately told the Salvation Army was looking for a facility to house the volunteers.

“We didn’t know how many were coming, but we volunteered the space at our church. They came and inspected it and said we would do just fine,” he added.

So began the massive job by First Baptist of housing the over 200 volunteers working at the Salvation Army site. Never mind the work just being done by the Army to feed approximately 12,000 people each day in the Southeast Louisiana region. But consider all of the 200-plus workers there also need a place to eat, sleep and shower each and every day.

So First Baptist immediately went to work setting up cots and bunk beds everywhere they could put them. Every Sunday School class, hallway and back room was used. Then the church fellowship hall was set up as a dining room, even with live music on occasion, to refresh the volunteers from the Army site.

As you enter the front doors of the church, a nice table is set up with personal items such as soap, toothpaste, tooth brushes and razors.

“For us, we didn’t see this as a massive undertaking. We know Scripture tells us to love our neighbor. This was our way of doing it,” Burt noted.

Church volunteers have now worked around the clock. Breakfast is put together as a continental affair that has to be ready early in the morning. Seven different teams have been set up to take a day each for cooking, with a full dinner served at night. Meals like red beans, spaghetti, jambalaya and even a full breakfast one night, has been served.

Showers are provided through the Salvation Army shower truck, but Belle Terre Country Club and St. Charles Catholic High School opened their doors for the volunteers to use their showers as well.

Burt even added an 8 p.m. Sunday night church service for the weary workers needing some spiritual renewal.

During the day the church has a crew to do the grocery shopping, and there have even been kids helping answer the phones and serving the meals.

“The neat thing about this is we have all ages helping…kids to seniors,” Burt said. “We called on people here to help and the response was great. The first Sunday we told the congregation we had 40 bags of laundry to do, and by the end of the service it was all gone.”

The laundry itself is a huge job. Burt said there can be as many as 40 bags a day set up in the church foyer. Volunteers just come and pick up a bag and have it finished and returned by that night.

“We see this as our purpose right now,” Burt remarked. “This is our mission for the storm.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the congregation of 500 also found themselves helping at the Army site as well. When Hurricane Rita hit, 75 of the Southern Baptist Texas volunteers on site had to leave to go back home. Suddenly the Army was short of help, so First Baptist sent help there as well.

So far the church has spent over $4,000 of its own just on groceries, not to mention things like the air conditioning and lights going 24/7, which it normally does not. But Burt said he is not worried about the money.

“The Salvation Army said we would get reimbursed for expenses, but we haven’t really even asked about that,” he said. “We are just happy to have a part in this and doing what we know the Lord would have us do.”