When Hurricane Laura made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border in the United States on August 27, 2020, Adventist Community Services Disaster Response (ACS DR) was ready to respond.
Before the storm, the organization reached out to partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army, to plan how best to help those affected by the storm.
While Texas was largely spared, Louisiana took a direct hit from the fast-moving hurricane that reportedly killed at least 14 people and caused up to US$12 billion in damage.
The Southwest Region Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church made several churches available for shelter, but with COVID-19 restrictions in place, evacuees were staying in hotel rooms provided by the American Red Cross and FEMA.
“The conference continues to offer food for those affected by the hurricane,” said W. Derrick Lea, North American Division (NAD) ACS DR director. “This distribution is primarily for people who have been evacuated from their homes. This is just one of the many things that we’re doing — and will try to do — for the community.”
“Louisiana has confirmed that they want us to operate and manage a warehouse,” Lea said. “The Arkansas-Louisiana Conference ACS DR is prepared to ensure this takes place in an efficient, professional manner. We have been able to fill the first week with a team for the first round of deployment with the assistance of the Rocky Mountain, Southwest, and Florida conferences.” Lea said that a team of 13 should be operational by Monday, September 7.
In much of North America, ACS DR has made a name for itself in setting up and operating warehouses during natural disasters. In this particular situation, the donations pouring into the affected area have created a challenge in not only where to put the donations but also how to distribute them as swiftly as possible to those in need.
“Fortunately, the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference has a campground [the South Louisiana Convention Center] in Hammond, near the hardest-hit areas,” Lea said. “We are trying to get that particular place ready to operate a state warehouse for all of the community here in Louisiana that has been affected. Not only will this place function as a warehouse — we’re going to take those donations and actually get them out through what we call mobile distribution. We will put donated items on one of our vehicles and take them into the affected communities.”
Lea said that the goal of their mobile distribution unit is to drive out to the smaller communities. “Areas that have been in the news, such as Lake Charles and Alexandria, were hit hard. Praise God, they have plenty of help,” he said. “We’re going to the communities that we’ve been told have not received any help thus far. Many don’t have power, and I’ve heard reports that some of these communities aren’t going to have power for the next two months. That is their reality.”
COVID-19 has added a layer of precaution and made it more challenging to provide help. “We can’t currently use our churches as shelters. And many of our volunteers are typically older adults who are more at risk of contracting the virus, so we're dealing with that,” Lea said. “We’re going to set up the warehouse in a way that we take advantage of the social distancing guidelines so we can be as safe as possible. We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that our team members who are coming in have PPE [personal protective equipment] and maintain social distancing parameters.”