Shelter for evacuees set up at FBC

Community comes together to help as a team

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 9/10/17

A community shelter was set up Sunday at First Baptist Church of Jasper, with help from various churches and leaders, so that Florida evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma could have a centralized place to eat, sleep or get other services.

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Shelter for evacuees set up at FBC

Community comes together to help as a team


A community shelter was set up Sunday at First Baptist Church of Jasper, with help from various churches and leaders, so that Florida evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma could have a centralized place to eat, sleep or get other services.

After community leaders met early Sunday afternoon, a couple of evacuees were seen registering outside the church’s west entrance for assistance Sunday night at suppertime. Despite the small number, the advancing storms have convinced organizers more will come from campsites.

Paul Kennedy, president of the Walker Area Community Foundation, and Cristy Moody, director of operations of the foundation, were seen Sunday night helping at the church, although they said no one organization was spearheading the effort. They said the community, through its churches and agencies, came together to work hand-in-hand to set up the shelter situation.

A fellowship hall and adjoining gymnasium was opened up at the church to provide “a home away from home for evacuees if need be,” Kennedy said. “There are a lot of them in local hotels and local campgrounds, so (organizers) are just trying to ease the burden a little bit by having a shelter if someone needs it, even for those people who are in hotels and campgrounds, to give those people a little sense of hospitality.” 

Laundry, a sleep area and shower services are also provided at the church, Kennedy said, noting many came with the clothes off their backs.

“A lot of people just left with their children and their pets,” he said. “I don’t know how they found Jasper, but they are here.”

Moody noted many at the campgrounds came with food in coolers. As a result, they are also needing ice, an example of many other details that have to be covered. Also, many families brought their pets with them, meaning they need pet food and places for the pets to go.

“It’s just about helping them try to figure out where you should to go to get what resources you need,” she said.

First United Methodist Church of Jasper was planning to bring lunch meals from its Hope Kitchen on Tuesday and Thursday, Kennedy said. Northside Baptist Church and Farmstead Baptist Church were among other churches he knew of that would be participating.

“First Baptist Church is going to be the epicenter for it,” he said, noting the one location was by design “to try to keep it simple for the folks who are not from here.” Moody said even the early afternoon meeting of officials was held at the church to get them used to the idea that the activity is centering on First Baptist.

She also noted the church has a major advantage in that it has a back up generator for power. Kennedy pointed out it was installed after the 2011 tornadoes.

Flyers were passed out to advertise the shelter service in all the hotels and motels.

“We know there are 20 to 30 at Clear Creek, staying in tents,” Moody said. “(Jasper Councilwoman) Jennifer Smith has gone out there and talked with each of those families and invited them here for our informational meeting.” 

“When the rains come in at 11 tomorrow, tents are not going to be a good place to be — especially not in a campground with a lot of tree cover. Stuff could be falling on their tents,” Kennedy said.

“I don’t feel like we will have many tonight,” she said. “But when that weather sets in, I feel like we will have people start coming.” 

If First Baptist fills up, Kennedy said there is a back up site at Parrish Church of God of Prophecy, pastored by T.J. Armstrong.

Moody noted the need felt in the community for something like this, noting a cashier from the Walmart Supercenter had just come. A number of Florida tags were seen early in the afternoon at the Jasper store.

“She said, ‘I just want you to know this is great. We have so many evacuees coming through but now we have a place to tell them to go,’” Moody said, noting that woman was later spreading the word to all the Walmart cashiers to tell them where to send evacuees.

“I don’t know if they will show up tonight or tomorrow,” Moody said.

Kennedy also noted the shelter was being advertised on social media as well.

Moody noted the 1:30 p.m. meeting at the church brought together a number of parties, including local non-profits, churches, Walker County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Regina Myers, Police Chief J.C. Poe and Mayor David O’Mary, to determine what has already been done and what still needs to be done for evacuees.

Matt Lotspeich, the pastor of education and evangelism at First Baptist, said in cooperation with other churches and organizations, the church will offer three meals a day and house evacuees in the church’s Family Life Center.

In addition to partnering with food, churches will also partner to take the evacuees to places such as the Natatorium or Swann Gym, so that they can get out and avoid cabin fever.

Lotspeich said the church would handle 50 or more, although he said it has the ability to do more than that. Jasper Police Department has provided 25 cots, while the Walker County Emergency Management Agency provided 80.

The extra cots would come in handy, as Lotspeich noted Clear Creek is full and Hidden Cove is a distance away.

He said the effort also allows for the evacuees to be ministered to in a spiritual or comforting sense. Many show the stress that indicates at times they need someone to listen to them.

“We found out today by going to different hotels that people need food and a place to stay, but they are just drained. They want someone to talk to, to carry on a conversation,” he said. “Just be a friend — it’s not anything hard. We just encourage them the best that we can and give the information that they need.” 

Also, they might not need the shelter but instead need the three meals, he said.

“Not everybody’s got an evacuation fund that you can just tap into,” Lotspeich said. “That’s going to get drained.”

Adam Hicks, the Jasper Campus pastor for Desperation Church, also dropped by Sunday night as the shelter got started, noting multiple churches were involved in the effort, including his.

“This is really the heart beat” of the church, Hicks said. “It says a lot about Jasper in that the churches of Jasper can come together and say hey, nobody goes without a place to stay. Let’s make sure nobody goes hungry. Let’s make sure everyone is taken care of and make sure you are going to have a pleasant experience in our community, especially if you are an evacuee.”

As pizza was served with soft drinks and side items, only a couple of families was visible, although it was clear they had experienced a tough weekend.

Stephen Caldwell, who came from Naples, Fla., with his mother and sister, did not even bring the other family members, as they were so exhausted from the trip. “We drove all night,” he said, coming in Saturday nightto Jasper.

He let them sleep in the motel Sunday night. Meanwhile, he was allowed that night to bring the food back to the motel. He noted they are doing well.

Caldwell said he picked Jasper because he didn’t know where the hurricane was going.“The first track was shown going over Atlanta when we left,” he said.

“We thought, we’ll go a little bit over to the northwest and try to get out of the track entirely — and now the track is showing it may come up this way,” Caldwell said with a laugh.

He said he was thankful for the service being shown at the church by the community.

“I very much appreciate it. It is really the milk of human kindness, especially in our situation. Something like this is very welcome.” 

As for his own residence, he had not heard any word — although he heard as he left the motel room at supper time that the eye was at that moment over Naples. “They are still projecting it will go up the west coast,” he said.

Sanchez and Maria Prudencio came with five of their six children from Lakeland, Fla. (One son is staying with his grandparents.) The family left Friday, staying on the side of the road that night. They got into Jasper Saturday morning.

The family stayed at a hotel Saturday night, but planned to stay Sunday night at the church. Mrs. Prudencio called the service at the church “a blessing in disguise.” All of the family is doing well.