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Tennessee Baptist Church Opens Doors to Hurricane Victims

Murfreesboro, Tenn., is more than 500 miles from New Orleans, but it’s where about 50 of the city’s residents wound up after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“I’m going to miss my home,” Eddie Hawkins, a citizen of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New Orleans since 1947, told the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. “I lost everything I had. I’ve got to start all over again.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Hawkins was among displaced hurricane victims at an American Red Cross emergency shelter at FirstBaptistChurch in Murfreesboro, a historic downtown congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
 
Pastor Mike Smith said about 50 men, women and children stayed at the church Monday night. They slept on cots in the gymnasium at the church’s ChristianLifeCenter, where they also had access to showers and a cafeteria.
 
Lay ministry coordinator Kristina Brown is organizing church volunteers to support about five Red Cross staff on site.
 
Church members signed up on line to prepare and serve meals and provide transportation. A Wal-Mart gave vouchers to victims, and church members drove them to shop. Others took people to doctor appointments.
 
Children’s minister Sharon Hay took eight children to register for school. One child is enrolled in Head Start.
 
“There is no shortage of people wanting to help,” Brown told EthicsDaily.com. She said the church is using its Web site effectively to alert members of immediate needs.
 
A volunteer Webmaster updates the site several times daily. On Monday, for example, the Red Cross had disposable diapers but no baby wipes. An hour after posting an alert on the Web site, there were about 100 packages.
 
On Tuesday the Web site solicited donations of air mattresses, school backpacks for children enrolling in local schools, large plastic tubs to hold personal items and duffle-type bags to give to victims for personal belongings.
 
Officials estimated about 15,000 evacuees were in Tennessee, mostly in and around Memphis.
 
Smith said his church in Murfreesboro agreed several years ago to serve as a regional disaster site for the Red Cross in middle Tennessee.
  
Brown said Red Cross officials contacted the church last week about setting up an emergency shelter and then began to direct storm victims there. According to the local paper, some arrived by airplane at a small airport nearby in Smyrna carrying all their possessions in a cardboard box.
 
Brown said the first guest arrived at the church Wednesday night. About 10 to 15 trickled in until Sunday, when 45 people spent the night. She said she is uncertain how long some of the people might be there.
 
“Most of the people I’m seeing have no real prospects,” she said. “If they had family that could take them in, or if they could find family, they probably would have done that by now.”
 
Brown said she was also unprepared for the number of people in need of medical attention. One woman with Alzheimer’s was taken to a hospital but will need long-term care. Another woman has breast cancer. Two sick infants were taken to a pediatrician Tuesday morning.
 
A five-year church staff member, Brown coordinates First Baptist’s Lay Ministry, which helps church members develop their ministry gifts and passions through community service opportunities like Habitat for Humanity and Operation Inasmuch, a one-day focus on community ministry begun in 1995 at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C.
 
“FirstBaptistChurch has been absolutely superb,” said Norman Mcvicker of the American Red Cross in Murfreesboro. “They have a great facility and very willing people.”
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.