Church, Salvation Army form disaster response team

COVINGTON -- A local team of volunteers has been quietly making a big impact at home and in other communities, helping victims of disasters, the homeless and others in need.

Eastridge Community Church has partnered with the Salvation Army of Covington to form a disaster response team. The nearly 40-member strong team is making use of the Salvation Army canteen to feed residents at Covington Housing Authority, the homeless and others in need of a warm meal, as well as those who have are victims of natural disasters and accidents.

Most recently, the group fed students from Burke County who were passengers in a six school bus pileup on I-20. The students were traveling to Six Flags on a field trip when the accident occurred. Those who were not injured were taken to Eastside High School to wait on transportation back home.

"The initial report was that we had 60 that we needed to feed. We ended up feeding 300," said Todd Newman, a member of the mission team at Eastridge who initiated the idea for the disaster response team. "Then we went to the hospital to feed the kids who were there before they went home to Burke County. The cafeteria was closed and the hospital had no way of feeding them."

Newman said he was meeting with the mission team last year when the idea hit him that a local disaster response team was needed. One of the elders on the team, Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn, who is also chair of the Salvation Army Board of Directors, mentioned that the organization had a canteen that wasn't being used.

"Within two weeks, we had full use of the canteen and it's been full blast since then. Every step we've taken, the Lord's been there," Newman said.

Two other churches -- Journey Church and Point of Grace Church -- have since joined the effort.

The team visits the Covington Housing Authority at least once a month, providing a meal to residents, and sometimes essentials like toiletries, and playing games with children, said Jody Carver, director of the local branch of the Salvation Army. Volunteers are also out and about regularly taking sleeping bags, MREs, or meals ready-to-eat, to the homeless. Twice a week, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they host a dinner for those in need of a warm meal at Repairers of the Breach, a local thrift store. On those nights, they feed about 75 people, Carver said.

In April, the team fed the participants of a mock disaster hosted in Newton and including surrounding counties and state and federal agencies. Also, last year, the team was dispatched to North Carolina to feed victims and volunteer workers in the wake of Hurricane Irene, and then on to Pennsylvania after major flooding there.

"Going into this thing, I thought let's do some chainsaw work. I never realized the need for food. An army runs on its stomach. It's amazing to me that there's such need there," Newman said.

The team is serving between 200 and 250 meals each month, but when they're called on for disasters or in the case of the mock disaster, that number rises. In April, they served 1,100, Newman said.

Members of Eastridge Community Church have taken their commitment to helping the community in times of peril one step further: The church was recently approved as an emergency shelter.

"There were no intentions, no predestined ideas as to what was going to happen once we got this thing going. Every time we took a step of faith it just exploded," Newman said.

The Homeless Outreach Ministry also consists of Street Disciples Outreach, Repairers of the Breach, Garden Of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter, Mansfield United Methodist and numerous other volunteers. They meet once a month at the Salvation Army. Those interested in joining the disaster response team or the Homeless Outreach Ministry can call the Salvation Army at 770-786-2107.