FEMA considers Remington’s to be a pacesetter for disaster relief
Former night club now a haven for evacuees thanks to Ridgecrest
By Lee Warren
October 4, 2005
SPRINGFIELD – When Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield purchased a facility called Remington’s (a former nightclub) in 2004, they had no idea how God would use the building to help the community. After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, His Providence came into clear view when the Red Cross turned Remington’s into Hurricane Central for evacuees who suddenly found themselves in Missouri.
“We had visions, but we never envisioned that there would be a hurricane,” said P.K. Hinkle, minister of servant development at Ridgecrest. “The vision was that we would buy it for the community. When the church voted, that was first and foremost – we were redeeming Remington’s and using it for the community. We’ve been able to do some things in there throughout the year that were a blessing to the community, but nothing to this scale. This was an overwhelming opportunity.”
From Sept. 6 to Sept. 21, more than 1,600 evacuees filed through the facility to receive much-needed food, clothing, and health care from organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Ozark Food Harvest. Evacuees also received employment assistance from local employment placement firms – who waived their fees – from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who assisted people in purchasing homes, to the hundreds of members of Ridgecrest who volunteered to do things like watching the children of evacuees as their parents dealt with harsh realities.
Geoff Steele, the facility coordinator at Remington’s and a member at Ridgecrest, worked together with the Red Cross to figure out how to keep all of the children busy while restoring some sense of normalcy to their lives, knowing that parents would then be free to focus on the difficult decisions they needed to make.
The Red Cross initially donated $1,000 to purchase toys for the children, and employees of People’s Bank got involved in raising funds internally to buy more toys. The plan was to provide each child with two toys, but the money poured in – so much so that that each child was able to fill a complete shopping bag full of toys.
“When the parents would walk in and fill out their case file, they’d go around the corner and there would be a National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) counselor,” Steele said. “And someone else who would say to the children, ‘Hey, we’ve got toys back here’ and when they walked around the corner, they would see piles of toys. It was just like walking into Toys R’ Us.”
One such child was a boy from Mississippi who was in the facility on his 11th birthday. He held up his bag of toys to his father and said, “Look Dad, you don’t have to get me anything.”
“That’s good, because I’ve got nothing,” the man said with tears in his eyes.
“I patted his shoulder,” Steele said as the man picked up his son. “And told him that he had what was important in his arms.”
The man nodded and pulled the boy closer.
Steele said that evacuees were able to go through the entire process of receiving aid from the dozen or so organizations and agencies in three to five hours. Contrast that with one man from St. Bernard’s Parish who sat outside of a shelter for two days in Louisiana only to find out that they couldn’t help him. When he heard that all of his needs could be met in one facility in Springfield, he drove straight to Remington’s.
Of the 1,600 evacuees aided at Remington’s, Steele estimates that 85 percent do not intend to move back to where they came from. With such a large percentage of people wanting to find new places to live in the general area, Steele was inundated with requests from the community to help.
One Days Inn hotel offered 10 rooms at no cost for up to three weeks. One woman pooled her resources with co-workers and paid one full year of rent on a condominium for a family of evacuees – and she is working to get the utilities paid as well. All of the families who wanted to stay in the area were able to purchase new homes or were given some sort of long-term housing arrangement by people who were compelled to give sacrificially.
Those who gave so much might have the opportunity to do so again. FEMA considers Remington’s to be a model for disaster relief and as The Pathway goes to press, Steele has been given notice by the Red Cross that Remington’s may be called upon in the coming days to house evacuees from Hurricane Rita. And he can’t wait because he believes that meeting the needs of people is the key to relevance for the church in the community.
“If we can get people to understand that this thing about Jesus is real,” Steele said, “that He really does work through people’s lives, that He really does care, and that He cares through people, then it’s working.”