ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Volunteers from the First Baptist Church in Robertsdale’s Project C.A.R.E. unit were going back on the road this past weekend to aid with victims of Hurricane Laura in Louisiana.
A group of 14 volunteers headed out over the weekend of Aug. 29-31 to New Hope Baptist Church in Dequincy, Louisiana, which is about 25 miles northwest of Lake Charles, one of the hardest hit areas of the storm, which slammed into the Louisiana coast Aug. 26 as a strong Category 4 storm.
“We saw a lot of places that were devastated by the storm,” said Josh Lilly, family pastor at the First Baptist Church and coordinator for Project C.A.R.E., which stands for Catastrophic Aftermath Response Effort. “We saw a lot of roof damage, homes with big holes in the roof and a lot of overturned mobile homes.
“The people there were just happy to see us, happy to get a hot meal where they haven’t had power since the storm.”
Lilly said the group handed out close to 1,700 meals over a two-day period, arriving in Dequincy on Aug. 29 and serving more than 500 meals at dinner time, then more than 500 lunches and more than 500 dinners on Sunday before heading home to Robertsdale on Monday, Aug. 31.
Plans were to gather at the church on Wednesday, Sept. 2 in preparation to go to the First Baptist Church in Gillis, Louisiana, which is closer, only about 12 miles from Lake Charles, heading out Friday, Sept. 4 to serve one meal on Friday, two meals on Saturday and one meal on Sunday before heading home.
“We have ties to that church, a former part-time minister (Abbie Maggio) is from there and her father is pastor there,” Lilly said in a phone interview on Tuesday, Sept. 1. “From what I understand, they just got water restored yesterday. We try to go into areas where we can hook up to water. We can handle not having power, but if we don’t have running water, that’s pretty hard to deal with.”
Project C.A.R.E. began as an outreach ministry at the church in 2005, Lilly said, after the church hosted evacuees following Hurricane Katrina.
“A group of church members got together after that and decided if they can’t come to us, we need to figure out a way to get to them,” he said.
Since then, teams have responded to over a dozen disaster sites in five states, serving more than 25,000 hot meals.
Lilly has been involved with the program since coming to the church as family pastor three years ago from the Florida Panhandle.
“In 2018 when Hurricane Michael hit, I was able to organize a group to go to my home church there and help them,” he said. “Last year was the first time in five years that we were not called to send out a disaster response team.”
The group, comprised entirely of volunteers, has three cook trailers with the capacity to prepare up to 1,000 plates per meal.
Lilly said whenever possible, food, particularly meat, is pre-cooked at what the church calls its Fusion Café. The food that is pre-cooked is then vacuum sealed and stored in the trailers, then re-heated in boiling water along with other food that can be prepared at the site.
Volunteers for the program are always needed, Lilly said, along with monetary donations.
“We have a supplier where we buy all of our food and supplies in bulk,” he said. “It’s easier for us to know if we need green beans, we can get 30 large cans rather than having 100 different smaller cans donated to us.”
If you would like to donate or volunteer, links are available on the church’s website, firstrobertsdale.com. For more information you can visit the website, the First Baptist Church, Robertsdale page on Facebook or call 251-947-4362.