CHIPLEY - The West Florida Baptist Association is rolling up its sleeves and joining the effort to bring relief to the storm ravaged Pensacola area through coordination with the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to hundreds being displaced by flooding, the storm caused one death the largest amount of rainfall in a single calendar day since officials started tracking precipitation in 1880, according to the National Weather Service.
Director of Missions Forrest Smith and local teams are joining others from across the state in an effort to bring helping hands and reestablish hope to residents of the area - but they could use more volunteers.
"Disaster relief is part of the Convention's ministry," said Smith. "It's ran completely on a volunteer basis, but they have one of the largest disaster relief units in the country."
Sometimes, the hardest part for storm victims is knowing where to start, said Smith.
"When you're standing there in the midst of devastation, it's good to have both a helping hand and listening ear," said Smith. "Our teams help with things like debris removal and mudouts (removing everything from the home from the flooding level down), but we're also there to listen."
Smith says the relief effort is also an opportunity to minister to those who may have given up hope.
"A lot of times, people don't understand why someone would drive that far and give up their time. When they turn to you and ask, 'Why are you doing this?', that's the open door. We're there to meet their immediate physical needs, but we're there to meet their spiritual needs as well."
Relief team member Tom Poppy of Chipley reported an 80-year old resident was upset because she had nowhere to keep her two dogs, which had been her constant companions for years.
"Tom couldn't offer a ready solution, but it helped to have that empathetic ear," said Smith. "It was clear it meant a lot to her."
Smith also stressed that while the Baptist Convention prefers and offers training, volunteers are still sorely needed and welcome to call the office to offer their time and services.
"A lot of people feel like they need to be very young or have special skills to volunteer, but that's just not the case," said Smith. "Whatever you can do, you surely have something to offer."
For more information on how to donate or volunteer, contact Smith at the Association's office at 638-0182.