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September 1, 2005
Column #1,253

                                 The True Heroes of Katrina
     A great tragedy, such as Hurricane Katrina, brings out the best and the worst in human nature. The widespread looting which engulfed New Orleans was sickening.

     TV cameras captured a few of the brave heroes putting their own lives at risk on dangling ropes from helicopters as they descended to save the lives of hundreds stranded on rooftops.

     By Thursday morning, however, not one TV story I saw spotlighted my favorite heroes in tragedies of this sort - the 1,400 Southern Baptist volunteers who left comfortable homes to man 100 mobile disaster relief units, including 26 semi-trailers with huge kitchens capable of cooking 300,000 meals a day. 

     The Red Cross gets credit for feeding hungry survivors, but where did they get the food?

     On Monday and Tuesday the Army supplied 500,000 of what it calls MREs, Meals Ready to Eat. These packets are used extensively in Iraq.

      By Wednesday food was prepared by Southern Baptist volunteers who left their families across the South to drive disaster relief units, paid for by church members, to the hurricane-flattened streets of Biloxi, Picayune, Pascagoula and the lesser hit but stricken cities of Hattiesburg, Meridian, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Lafayette and 18 other cities.

     The mobile kitchens cooked not only for those whose homes were destroyed along the coast, but also for the tens of thousands of refugees who fled from New Orleans and the Mississippi coast inland with only the clothes on their backs. 

     The Red Cross asked Southern Baptists to add additional units that could offer 500,000 meals a day by the weekend, plus man Red Cross units lacking volunteer drivers/cooks. It also asked  the Salvation Army and Operation Blessing of the Christian Broadcasting Network for similar feeding units. Operation Blessing founded by Pat Robertson, sent mobile kitchens that could cook up to 310,000 meals a day to storm victims.

     However, none of these feeding units were able to reach the flooded streets of New Orleans as this column went to press. One Baptist unit from Memphis tried to enter America's Mardi Gras city, but was diverted to Baton Rouge as a second wave of refugees fled the stricken city. 

     To its great credit, the Red Cross took the cooked meals from the Salvation Army, Southern Baptists and Operation Blessing - and transported them in heated units that could negotiate the rising waters in New Orleans to thousands of victims without homes, jobs, power or food.

     The Red Cross carried the food to shelters in New Orleans, such as the giant Louisiana Superdome where 30,000 fled before conditions became so terrible, that a second evacuation was ordered by authorities. Buses transported a second tide of refugees to Baton Rouge and beyond where they were greeted by cheerful Salvation Army, Southern Baptist and Operation Blessing volunteers.

     "These lives have been disrupted in a way that will take years to overcome," remarked Southern Baptist spokesman Jim Burton. "And some emotionally will never get over it. We are trying to bring stability into their lives."

     Last year, Southern Baptists cooked 2.4 million meals for victims of four hurricanes in Florida. These volunteers also provided 30,000 showers, portable laundries and helped chain saw trees in 8,000 yards.

     When the World Trade Center collapsed, Southern Baptists drove feeding units to Ground Zero where 12,000 volunteers operated 319 days giving 1.3 million hot meals, 11,552 showers and 782 loads of laundry. Tens of thousands of volunteers drove far from home to donate a week or
two or a month to people who will never know their benefactors.

     I'm proud that two of my sons put their shoulders to the wheel. Tim, who is COO of the River Region Medical Center in Vicksburg, said his hospital served "a ton of refugees," such as patients from the New Orleans Charity Hospital which had no running water or electricity. Patients who needed oxygen to live got it, while hospital employees abandoned usual jobs to offer informal day care.

     Adam urged listeners to his daily Christian radio show, "Take A Stand," on KSLR in San Antonio, to donate to Feed The Children. "A $35 gift provides 250 pounds of bottled water, food, diapers, cleaning supplies and blankets," he said. "$70 delivers 500 pounds...and $280 sends a full ton of supplies."

      I urge readers to pick up the phone and make a donation:

      American Red Cross: 1-800 HELP-Now (435-7669)

      Feed the Children: 1-888-58-CHILD (888-582-4453)

      Operation Blessing: 1-800-730-2537

      Salvation Army 1-800 SAL-ARMY (725-2769)

      Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief: 1-800-462-8657

      By calling in a contribution, YOU will become part of America at its best.

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