Red Cross, FEMA liked what they saw, thinks Benton camp could be a model
By Glen Cantrell
October 4, 2005
BENTON– It’s a nice, sunny September Monday when a red Lincoln with Louisiana plates pulls up to the gate. The young guard, a volunteer who lives nearby, asks the woman who is driving what he can do for her.
“I’m from Louisiana and I am staying in Sikeston,” she said. “Someone said I could come up here for supplies.”
“Yes ma’am,” the young guard said. “Pull right up to that building and they will be able to help you.”
This is just one of many families who have come to the American Red Cross Shelter located at the Charleston Baptist Association Campgrounds, just east of Benton. It is the last shelter left open in Missouri, and victims of Hurricane Katrina are still being helped.
“This whole experience has been overwhelming and heartwarming,” said Dick Smith, director of missions, Charleston Baptist Association. The 34 member churches of the association have donated money, toys, TVs, furniture, bedding and clothes to the evacuees.
Local officials agreed that the work that is going on here is breaking new ground and is helping to build a bridge between religious groups and secular groups who are after the same thing, helping those in need.
“These people want and need love,” said Saundra Blankenship, on-site manager of the shelter for the American Red Cross. “When they walk through that door, they are looking for something. They are looking for hope and that is what we are giving them.”
The hope is not just in money, food, clothing and shelter. It’s also hope in life – particularly with spiritual needs.
“I don’t see this just as an opportunity to volunteer for the Red Cross,” Blankenship said. “It is also a mission for me.”
One family prepared to leave the shelter for Boonville, where relatives were waiting for them. Before they left, Dennis Lowe, chairman of the Disaster Response Committee of the association, prayed with the family. The family had only stayed for one night, but the tears and hugs left the impression that everyone had been friends for many years.
Various utility companies, businesses and individuals have shown their generosity throughout the relief effort. The local electric company is providing the camp with free electricity and is upgrading part of the facility so that it can handle more power. Through the urging of the association, a company sent two large pallets of diapers. One day, someone drove up and donated 900 pounds of meat.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has asked Smith to make a manual that can be shared with other shelters around the country.
The Red Cross got the partnership started by inquiring about the campgrounds. That led to the actual partnership, which is a first. “We had some glitches here and there, but we have gotten them all worked out and everything runs great,” Blankenship said.
Smith was glad to help. “One group could not pull this off,” he said. “This even grew outside of our association, into other denominations and into the community. We saw businesses, churches, individuals or other groups donating everything from freezers to TVs to computers to telephone lines.”
Smith said many of the volunteers for the Red Cross and the association share a “common love for the Lord. God gives us a mandate to help those in need and that is exactly what we are doing here.”
Blankenship said she brings a similar perspective to her work. Often she asks people if she can pray for them. If God opens the door, she then will share Christ.
“At the end of the day, no matter what happens, I just want to lay my head down on my pillow and know that I did my best as a Christian,” she said. “Out of all the people that have come through this shelter, if one person, just one is saved, then all of this work we did was worth it.”