A “mobile feeding unit,” staffed by disaster relief volunteers from Creswell’s New Hope Baptist Church, serves meals out of Oakridge High School following last winter’s heavy snowstorm. From left: Zody Donovan, Pat Tiller, Dianna Burrell and Ben Walker. Photo by Rob Walker

CRESWELL — Even as we continue to struggle locally and globally with the public health and economic crisis triggered by COVID-19, it’s heartening to know that Creswell’s New Hope Baptist Church stands ready to respond to natural disasters.

New Hope is a local “arm” of the national, nearly all-volunteer Southern Baptist Church Disaster Relief “body,” which is capable of mobilizing quickly and efficiently in response to catastrophic events such as hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, mudslides, blizzards and wildfires anywhere in the country – and even internationally.

“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is, financially, the third-largest disaster relief organization in the U.S., behind the Red Cross and Salvation Army – and as far as size of the workforce, with 65,000-plus trained volunteers, SBDR is actually larger than either (of those),” New Hope pastor Rob Walker said. 

“About 80% of the meals served by the Red Cross come from SBDR kitchens,” he said.

SBDR capabilities include:

* Mobile feeding units capable of preparing 1,000 to 25,000 meals a day

* Shower/Laundry Trailers

* Mud/Ash Out and Chainsaw recovery teams to clear sites after floods, fires and storms and prepare damaged sites for rebuilding

* Damage assessment to identify damages and assign available resources

* Chaplaincy

Because local churches can be the first “boots on the ground” when disaster strikes, SBDR invests significantly in equipment and training, preparing these churches to respond as “ready churches.”

New Hope is one such “ready church,” primed to offer aid and comfort to local disaster survivors. Currently, about 25 church members are trained in feeding units, shower/laundry trailers, chainsaw units, Mud/Ash Out, damage assessment and chaplaincy, Walker said.

“Each volunteer takes a basic Red Cross certification class in addition to specialty training in the different competencies,” Walker said. “Training is provided on a regional level, coordinated through the various Southern Baptist State Conventions.”

Local teams are activated as the need arises.

“Most often, we respond to regional and state callouts in coordination with our state director and FEMA,” Walker said. New Hope volunteers have served on callouts for wildfire-damaged areas in Washington state, hurricane and flood recovery in Texas, tornado recovery in Florida, flood damage in Eastern Oregon and snowstorm recovery in Central Oregon, among others.

Locally, during the February 2019 snowstorm, “we deployed a team and mobile kitchen to Oakridge to prepare and serve meals out of the high school, since the town did not have any power,” Walker said. “We also provided more limited meals in Drain and at Saginaw Trailer Park.”

Because Drain was likewise without power, those meals were prepared in Walker’s home and then delivered. 

The pastor also drove to Washington, picked up a shower/laundry trailer and delivered it to Elkton, Ore., where volunteers manned it for a week.

Walker – who said he first got involved in SBDR in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans – has personally deployed on hurricane-recovery callouts in Louisiana; chainsaw teams after tornadoes in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Kansas; and done damage assessment after the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado and flood damage assessment in Colorado.

“And we have several members who have more extensive experience than me,” he said.

In partnership with the Willamette Valley Baptist Association, New Hope staffs a mobile kitchen unit capable of providing up to 5,000 meals per day.

Depending on the need, they work with FEMA, County Emergency Operations Command and local food banks to obtain the food to prepare meals.

And the need is growing. As the unique “natural disaster” that is COVID-19 continues, New Hope – and SBDR – stand ready should long-term unemployment and shutdowns cause hunger to outpace the “response-ability” of area food/meal providers.

He said they are already in communication with a national coalition of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Lane County Emergency management and the Red Cross. A contingency plan has been created if it’s determined that a need for larger feeding capacity exists, Walker said.

Most New Hope kitchen volunteers “are already certified to work with mass-care feeding units in disaster relief situations; we have capabilities of preparing up to 5,000 meals a day if the situation warrants,” he added. “We are used to working in situations like this.”

SBDR started over 50 years ago in Texas and now has a significant presence in 50 states, and an International response group.

New Hope is part of a voluntary cooperative mission ministry by Southern Baptist churches in Oregon, Washington and northern Idaho, called the Northwest Baptist Convention network. These churches, with other Baptist churches in North America, cooperate as the Southern Baptist Convention, whose Cooperative Program sets the SPDR ministry framework.

When a disaster occurs, SBDR personnel monitor the situation and work with local, state and/or national authorities to determine the resources required. 

If/when that requirement exceeds local churches’ capability, the Northwest Disaster Relief director solicits resources from other areas and states.

In 2019, SBDR logged over 670,000 volunteer hours and 80,000 volunteer days, prepared 368,000 meals and assisted in tornado/flood recovery for 5,800 homeowners.

“Because Christ is at work in our own lives, we cannot help but respond to people in crisis,” said New Hope/SBDR volunteer Ben Walker, pastor Rob’s father. “We pray, go and give because Christ has done so much for us. It is always about Christ and His love for all people.”