Disaster relief workers from the Tennessee Baptist Convention earned high praise from American Red Cross officials working near the "ground zero" blast zone at the World Trade Center.
"Southern Baptists are taking care of us and we can't do it without them," said Maria Lavendeer, an instructor for the Red Cross. "I've always used the Southern Baptists as an example of well-oiled disaster relief teams, but I've never seen them in person."
Lavendeer watched as Tennessee Baptists set up cooking units and prepared food for workers digging through the ruins of the World Trade Center. The Tennessee unit was the closest such operation to the disaster site. After the food was prepared, it was then delivered by Red Cross workers to ground zero.
"This is simply unbelievable," Lavendeer said as the Baptist volunteers cooked, cleaned, and prepared beef stew, chicken and dumplings, and other hot meals for workers.
"These people deserve medals for their work," she said.
The Tennessee team of thirty men and women expected to prepare from 18,000 to 25,000 meals per day during their stay in New York.
The team set up in a gravel parking lot behind a UPS warehouse, with a shower trailer, cooking and serving units, and plenty of southern accents.
For the volunteers, it was a chance to show the people of New York that Southern Baptists care about their plight.
Virginia and John Cole, from First Baptist Church, Huntington, Tenn., said this was the first major disaster relief effort they had been a part of.
"We just got back last Sunday from Prince Edward Island on mission and we turned around and headed up here," said Virginia Cole, a retired registered nurse. "We can't think of any other place to be. This is where the ministry needs to be."
Joyce Curlington, a volunteer from Roseberry Baptist Church in Mascot, Tenn., said she was proud to be able to serve the citizens of New York.
"It's bringing our country back together," she said while preparing a meal of beef stew.
Steve York, from Hickory Hills Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., is in charge of the TBC's delivery and support team. His job was to oversee the transportation of the unit's trailers and equipment.
A former big rig driver, York said he's noticed a difference in the post-Sept. 11 New Yorkers.
"They are a different people," said York, taking a break from hauling equipment around the site. "They really have a spirit now. Their hearts are open. I believe this is a wakeup call."
York said citizens went out of their way to express appreciation for all the volunteers arriving in New York. In one instance, he said a woman refused to take money for food during a lunch break. He said the impact of the disaster has opened a door for evangelism in the nation's largest city.
"If we don't use this opportunity to show a Christian witness, shame on us," York said.
Even UPS employees turned up at the site to volunteer, unloading supplies from the semis.
"It is amazing how people from all over the country are coming," said Vivian Hung, a UPS worker from New Jersey. "It's so appreciated, giving up personal time to help others. It shows that this country is coming together."
In addition to the Tennessee team, disaster relief units from New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky ministered in New York, and a team from North Carolina ministered in Washington, D.C.