COLUMBIA, Md.—The face of disaster relief may not be what you envision. It may have a couple wrinkly laugh lines and could even be attached to some grey hairs. Seniors are the backbone of disaster relief, and according to NAMB, provide well over 50 percent of the manpower in Southern Baptist work today.
Ellen Udovich, BCM/D missionary for lay mobilization, said seniors are invaluable because they are available and able to serve on short notice.
“They don’t have to worry about taking time off of work and making child care preparations. They can just go,” she said.
Udovich said older volunteers also bring life experience and maturity to their ministry service.
Dow Wood, age 80, is pastor of First Church, Fruitland, and a leader for the Eastern Association disaster relief ministry, maintaining the disaster relief feeding unit and training new disaster relief workers how to use it.
Wood began training for disasters while growing up in Louisiana and seeing the devastation of floods. When he moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore 44 years ago, he became convinced that Maryland needed to be prepared for potential disasters and joined the Red Cross. When BCM/D became active in disaster relief, Wood immediately got involved and has stayed involved. Wood’s dream of having a disaster response unit on the Eastern shore became a reality in September 2001.
Fred and Annie Stumme are members of Glen Burnie Church. They responded to a call for disaster training in the mid-90’s and learned how to operate the feeding unit. They were deployed to Pennsylvania a few months after training to help victims in a flooded area in Pennsylvania. Later they helped Katrina victims evacuated to Cape Cod. They also ministered in New York after 9/11.
Each deployment, Stumme said, includes a prayer circle and sharing time that keeps the trip in the right perspective, giving God glory and honoring Him.
While in Cape Cod, the couple had the chance to serve the meals and to sit and eat with some of the victims. Often, Stumme said, people would ask if they were paid, and why were they there. Stumme said it was an open door to tell them that it was where God wanted them to be and to share Christ in whatever ways they could.
The Stummes recruited other disaster relief workers. Dorothy Swires was one of them. Swires, also a member of Glen Burnie Church, listened to the Stummes share their experiences and ask for others to get involved. Swires was seated next to her son. After church she told him she was going to seek out Fred Stumme to sign up for disaster relief.
“He asked, ‘Why?’ and I said ‘Why not? I’m retired; I don’t have anything holding me back. It’s something I want to do and I have a feeling I should do it,’” she told him.
She was deployed to Cape Cod the next day and shortly after that she worked in Florida helping hurricane victims.
“I had never seen anything like it,” Swires said, filled with compassion for the victims. “I really thanked God that I was able to help.”
Though the trips are hard, with the long drives, getting to bed at midnight, beginning to cook at 5 a.m. and the various stresses, Swires recently got recertified and she’s ready to go again.
Delmer Simcox, a member of Conowingo Church, said he too has been blessed by his participation in disaster relief.
Simcox ministered in Ohio for a week, cleaning houses after flooding.
“I was blessed to see how receptive the people were. Some of them couldn’t believe we would travel that distance to work for nothing,” he said.
Simcox also ministered in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
“We got there six weeks after it happened. The area still smelled. It was quite a challenge and a blessing to talk to the people, hear their experiences and see the devastation.”
This spring, he served on a recovery chainsaw team in Kentucky after a tornado, alongside his daughter, Debbie Fortuna, also a member of Conowingo Church.
Udovich said young and old, men and women can serve in disaster relief. There is something for everyone ranging from the more physical tasks of mud-outs and chainsaw work, cleaning debris and construction type duties to working the feeding units, doing administrative tasks, laundry, chaplaincy and working with the new communications unit.
“I would encourage seniors to get involved in disaster relief,” Stumme said. “And of course, younger people. We need help along the way.”
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Fred Stumme said.
By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent