Recovery fleet ready to roll

Published 12:30 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

AHOSKIE – A hurricane strikes with all its fury; homes, businesses and churches lie in ruin; people’s everyday lives are disrupted.

Unleashing its powerful force, a tornado wrecks havoc on a community; hundred are hungry and homeless, all left to try and pick up the pieces.

No matter what act of nature causes widespread destruction, all can take comfort in the fact that help will soon arrive and among those answering the call is The Harvest Connection Disaster Relief Ministry (HCDRM).

Recently, HCDRM added Hickory Chapel Original Free Will Baptist Church of Ahoskie as one of its numerous staging areas. The local church, located on NC 561 East, will serve as the host for disaster relief teams as they work in the aftermath of storms along the North Carolina and Virginia coastline and inland areas.

Headquartered in Kinston, Harvest Connection is affiliated with the Original Free Will Baptist churches of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. That association includes 250 churches.

Once a natural disaster occurs, HCDRM sends Roy Wetherington into action. The Craven County native goes to the affected area and assesses the damage.

“Our efforts are in two areas – delivering early response disaster kits and, if needed, providing long term recovery (home repair),” Wetherington said.

Whatever the case, the Harvest Connection can call on 350 volunteers to help those in need. Wetherington pointed out that the volunteers come from all walks of life and do not necessarily have to be a member of an Original Free Hill Baptist church.

At the disposal of those volunteers are a fleet of vehicles – four trucks, two vans and 17 trailers. Those trailers provide sleeping quarters, a kitchen on wheels, supplies and tools.

After determining the needs of an affected area, Wetherington calls what for vehicles and manpower are needed. They are dispatched to areas near the disaster scene.

“Hickory Chapel here in Ahoskie serves as one of our staging areas,” Wetherington said. “We set-up camp at those areas and then deploy to the recovery site, returning at night and then starting all over again the next day.”

The work, Wetherington said, can be stressful.

“We go into areas that have been hit hard by storms and your heart tugs at you to remain there until all the work is done,” Wetherington noted. “But a person just cannot handle all of that strain. We do not allow a volunteer to stay at a recovery site for more than two weeks due to the emotional strain of dealing with a disaster.”

In order to deal with that stress, Wetherington said debriefing sessions are conducted following each disaster response.

“We understand we cannot get everything back 100 percent; our goal is to leave a house with the ‘three s’ principal – sanitary, safe and secure,” Wetherington stated.

To date, Harvest Connection has sent volunteers and equipment for recovery efforts in the wake of hurricanes Isabel, Charley, Katrina and Ike. They have responded to flooding disasters in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Georgia.

Wetherington said the most extensive of those efforts was in Sandersville, Mississippi following Katrina.

“All totaled we had volunteers there over a two-year period,” he said.

Currently, Harvest Connection continues to send aid to the earthquake victims in Haiti.

“We’re nearly four months removed from the earthquake in Haiti,” Wetherington noted. “With everything else going on in the world, some may have placed Haiti on the backburner, but we continue our efforts. It’s an ongoing situation in Haiti. We will continue this as long as it is needed.”

Harvest Connection continues to send recovery kits, medical supplies and tarps to Haiti. Wetherington said 26 churches, including Hickory Chapel, serve as drop-off sites for those supplies. Those wishing to learn how they can help are asked to contact Pastor Mike Williams at 332-4778.

As far as to what drives the Harvest Connection effort, Wetherington said the answer was simple in his eyes.

“We’re all God’s children; we are colorblind…if someone is in need of assistance we will send it,” he concluded. “I feel a calling to do this. God has led me to do this, as he has led others to join our efforts. We go to help people, but we are the ones who come away feeling that they’ve helped us more than we’ve helped them.”

Harvest Connection receives no federal or state assistance. All of their operational funding is generated through the church and from private donations. To learn more, visit

Pastor Williams said that 10-to-15 members of his congregation are volunteers with the Harvest Connection.

“We are here to minister to those in need,” Williams said.

That help includes a local effort – the Helping Hands Ministry. Williams said that organization was founded one year ago to help the elderly with plumbing repairs, painting and minor construction work, including wheelchair ramps.

“This is a vision of our church to become more involved in the local community,” Williams said.

To volunteer or make a donation to the Helping Hands Ministry, contact Williams at 332-4778.