When Hurricane Sandy drenched New England in 2012 -- flooding streets, destroying homes and cutting the power supply to millions of people for days -- Phillip Keyes was more than 1,300 miles away enjoying an outing with fellow United Methodist volunteers in Lafayette, Louisiana.
That didn’t stop him from being part of the United Methodist relief efforts that immediately spun into place. Keyes and others from the Florida Conference had traveled to Louisiana for a weeklong mission at the Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin. The morning after Sandy made landfall, volunteers at the facility operated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) were busy sending prepacked buckets of supplies to the hard-hit areas.
“They backed two trucks to the loading dock,” Keyes recalled. “We loaded the two trucks that morning and got them on their way before noon. … I thought that was really remarkable.”
Keyes, a member of Carlson UMC, LaBelle, said depot managers have told volunteers that relief materials they assembled were destined for Bangladesh, Haiti or Japan, as well as places in the U.S. That global reach is one of the aspects of working at the depot that he finds rewarding.
And now more volunteers will be able to share in that sense of carrying out God’s work. A new lodging facility, called the Dixon-Rabb Hall, is expected to open late this year. The hall will accommodate 24 guests at a time, increasing Sager Brown’s housing capacity for volunteers from 60 to 84 guests.
The new building is named for Rev. Dr. Sam Dixon and Rev. Clinton Rabb. Dixon was the former head of UMCOR, and Rabb was the assistant general secretary for Mission Volunteers. Both died of injuries they sustained in the collapse of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, during the earthquake in 2010. They had gone there for conversations about how Global Ministries might support the development of health programming in Haiti.
The new digs are welcome news to Keyes, who has been spending a week each year at the depot for four or five years. Usually he goes with two dozen or more volunteers from First UMC, Orlando, who work in the warehouse assembling various kinds of relief kits or venture into the local community to do minor home repairs. The team is scheduled to head to Baldwin this year on Sept. 12, bearing donated school supplies to add to UMCOR kits along with the gift of volunteer labor.
“That is one of the poorest parishes in Louisiana … and per capita for income in the U.S.,” Keyes said. “There’s a lot of substandard housing.”
Even people who don’t have home repair skills can usually find a job to do at the depot, he added. Volunteers put together several kinds of relief kits in addition to those designed for cleanup after a storm. Kits designed for classroom teaching, for new mothers and their babies or to provide hygiene and health items to homeless people are among those assembled at the depot. Click here to see kit descriptions and current needs.
Keyes, who is co-coordinator of the disaster preparedness team at Carlson UMC, said he especially recommends the Sager Brown experience to people who would like to do mission work but either can’t or don’t want to travel overseas for financial or health reasons.
Including meals and overnight hotel stays during travel to and from the depot on a church bus, the cost for individuals in the group from First UMC, Orlando, is less than $350, Keyes said. On the way up and the return trip, as well as during the group’s stay at Sager Brown, there are daily devotions and opportunities for fellowship, he added.
The Sager Brown Depot is UMCOR’s headquarters for relief-supply operations, according to the committee’s website. Each year, more than 2,000 volunteers prepare materials valued at $4 million for shipment from the Baldwin campus. For information about how to volunteer, click here. For those who prefer to make a donation, click here.
UMCOR operates another depot in Salt Lake City, Utah, that offers volunteer ministry opportunities to United Methodists in the Western Jurisdiction. The agency has other facilities fulfilling various purposes scattered across the U.S. Click here for a list.