Disaster Relief for Gatlinburg taking place on a local level, volunteers outside Tennessee urged to be patient
Tennessee Baptist leaders urge Southern Baptists patience in responding to a devastating wildfire last week.
The Nov. 28-29 fire left 14 dead at last count with 1,753 structures – as of this morning – damaged or destroyed, including three Southern Baptist churches.
Two of those churches – Roaring Fork Baptist and First Baptist Gatlinburg, received funds for heavily-damaged facilities. Additional gifts now make their way to Banner Baptist Church, which also damage suffered, reported the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, news journal for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“The destruction is total. Homes are in ash. In some cases, only the chimney or block walls are standing,” said Don Owen, director of the Nolachucky Baptist Association after he surveyed damage Nov. 29-30.
How to help now
Damage assessments dictate the long-term response, DR officials said.
“We know there are people eager to come, but until residents are allowed to return to their homes and damages are assessed, there is little that can be done,” Owen added.
Meanwhile, local churches continue to help where the can. First Baptist Sevierville opened its doors Nov. 28 to those chased from their homes by the flames. The church also provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner to some 1,400 volunteers in the initial days of response before shifting efforts to serve Tennessee National Guard troops called to the area.
Financial assistance can be made through Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief online or via P.O. Box 728, Brentwood, TN 37024. Please indicate Disaster Relief on the check.
Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, more than $20,000 in special gifts came to Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, said state executive director Randy Davis in a Dec. 1 open letter to Tennessee Baptists.
In addition, National WMU and the WMU Foundation presented $5,000 in grants for residents who lost their homes. The gifts arrived through the organizations’ HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund.
Help by planning a visit
“People have been living without their things and without information, but they will be transitioning soon into knowing what their needs are,” Anderson said. “We are grateful that the HEART Fund will allow us to be able to respond when the reality of need sets in.”
Many Southern Baptists serve in local government leadership, reported Baptist Press. They include Pigeon Forge, TN, mayor David Wear, a member of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, TN; Gatlinburg city manager Cindy Ogle, a member of First Baptist Gatlinburg; and Gatlinburg mayor Mike Werner, also a First Baptist Gatlinburg member.
“If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg,” Werner said during a Nov. 30 press conference, “come back and visit us.”