Walking into an area affected by disaster, you never know what to expect. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot you can’t control. In a way, you become like those you’ve come to help.
The one thing you can control is how you react to those in need. Our incident commander, Major Ernest Hull, New Orleans Area Commander, reminded us each day, “You represent the light of Jesus to these people. Be that light.”
We did our best to be a light serving in a county that lost power to over 80 percent of its homes and businesses following Hurricane Irma.
For me, every child who waited for something to eat and drink at one of our trucks reminded me why I’m here. One resident told me how during the day you try to find shade to keep cool, but at night, you still have to sleep in a hot house. The rain was gone and the temperature was up near 90 each day.
Driving into one community followed by a canteen, I saw folks outside and rolled down my window. A little boy, Mason, age 5 or 6, comes running up, “You guys are beautiful!”, he exclaims. I couldn’t have been more caught off guard. I had to get his picture. Mason was grateful for the food we were able to provide him, his father, and grandparents.
The next day, two little girls, maybe 10 and 6, I never asked their names. Our team handed them their food, and they sat down on the sidewalk to eat. I snapped a picture… smiling and thankful.
These eight days were made better by those smiling faces, and easier because of the people I work alongside in service to those in need.
In disaster situations, your team becomes your family. The commander becomes the father. On our team, Major Mary Meredith was the mother or “Mother Mary” as she was quickly nicknamed.
There were brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles even distant cousins from far-away places like Pennsylvania and Connecticut working out in the canteens. The longer we were there the more people were added, the crazier our family became…in a good way. All toll, we had officers, staff, and volunteers from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut!
There were arguments, laughter, teasing and even concern as several “family” members were injured or became sick.
One of our emotional and spiritual care “sisters” even brought two residents, a father and daughter, to know Jesus as their personal savior.
At the end of the day, we seemed to always eat dinner together and tell stories or discuss our work.
I know not every disaster team is like this, but we seemed to be chosen to be together, to serve a purpose none of us could have served on our own.
The week we served in Sebring, Florida, The Salvation Army provided over 20,000 meals, drinks, and snacks, prayed with 410 people, and loaded 4,100 cases of water into vehicles.
I am thankful this family could be there.