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Nonprofits fill in the gaps in cleanup in Moore

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
July 15, 2013
 

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The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma is an extensive organization, with Falls Creek hosting more than 50-thousand campers a year, the newspaper the Baptist Messenger, and a batch of web sites ready to answer any question about faith.  It seems nothing matches the size and scope of their Disaster Relief Team, which has come to look more like FEMA than a group of volunteers….

Wearing bright, canary yellow and blue shirts and hats, the volunteers are easy to spot.

“We’re almost like first responders, except we’re the first responders to be the first. We’re usually the first to be set up, to be ready to go, of any agency that I know of.”

20 minutes after the tornado hit Moore, Director Sam Porter was pulling into a parking lot in the city, trailer in tow.

Sam started with the group back in 1998, when it had just 300 volunteers for all of Oklahoma. Now, their count is up to more than 5,500. All of that requires a team of managers, directing help to areas that need it, keeping everybody fed, and coordinating with all the other groups and agencies on the ground.

“When churches and groups work, and they go into week two, they’re worn out. Well I just reload because God has given us so many incredible people saying ‘Tell me when I need to show up, tell me when I can work’. And they’ll wait a week, even though everybody else is wanting to do something now. They realize, this is not going to be over soon.”

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“Through the NGOs that have already gone through the process and established people and understand their people and what they’re doing, you can avert some of the problems that have resulted after Hurricane Katrina and more recently, say, in Boston, where people with not the best of intentions were involved with dealing with vulnerable people.”

Gregory Shaw is the co-director of the George Washington University Institute for Crisis and Risk Management.

“Sometimes the thought is ‘Well why don’t we just bring in the military to do these kinds of things?’ And the military, their equipment and training is not necessarily the best match. They bring lots of resources, but the resources come with very very high costs and may not be directly applicable to the situation.”

The Baptist General Convention Disaster Relief teams travel house to house, getting everything to the curb so the city can clear it away. And for those who still have houses standing, they’ll patch up roofs, take care of anything damaged by floods, and move on.

On top of all of that, they can cook 30-thousand plus hot meals a day – they actually do the cooking for the Red Cross. Democrat James Lockhart represents Leflore County in the state House near the southeast corner of Oklahoma.

“I’ve been around government and private business folk my whole life, and they were one of the most efficient groups I’ve ever dealt with.”

With 41 counties declared disaster areas by Governor Fallin since May 19th, the state’s resources have been stretched thin. That’s why Oklahoma’s Director of Emergency Management Albert Ashwood is happy to have the help of groups like the BGCO.

“Oh we’re extremely reliant on the volunteer agencies. The bottom line is whether you have a major disaster like the one we just had with the tornadoes or whether you just had your house burn down, they’re going to be there.”

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But with any group attached to a cause, there is the always the concern they may have other motives beyond just helping those in need. It could be for publicity, or it could be a chance to spread their message one by one.

“It just needs to be monitored.”

Again, Gregory Shaw with GWU.

“And with any organization, seeing how they’re approaching and what services they are delivering and taking corrective action if in fact, we don’t think they’re appropriate or the right resources to be providing.”

Sam Porter with BGCO says they have had some homeowners chase them away in the past, including one who didn’t know it was his wife who called for help. He says they help out everyone – their policy is no questions about people’s beliefs, and only talk if the homeowner brings it up. Representative Lockhart traveled with teams for a week during cleanup in Leflore County.

“The whole time I was there, not one of those BGCO guys ever asked ‘What party do you belong to?’ There was never really a lot of talk about the church stuff.”

And for the state’s part, Albert Ashwood says so far, so good.

“We have not received complaints like that, but if that happens, it’s something that if you ask them not to or tell them that you don’t need any help, it’s usually taken care of.

“If it goes beyond that, then yes, we would probably want to know about it, and we would probably send another volunteer agency out there to talk to them.”

As the cleanup turns into rebuilding, Sam Porter says they’ll continue cycling teams from across the nation in and out of Moore, and will keep going until they’re no longer needed. And when the next disaster happens, large or small, specks of blue and yellow will likely be there, helping out.

“We’re building the bridge between the two and literally holding hands with the government and the homeowners, and merging that together to say hey, let’s all work this together. And that’s what makes America great.”

Porter says they’ve had more than 13-hundred work orders. For every property they help clear, they’re saving the homeowner an estimated 5 to 8-thousand dollars.

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