Serving through the Storm

By Analiz González Buckner International

It’s one thing to help when you are doing well. It’s completely different when you help others while you need help yourself.

When Hurricane Ike led to a mandatory evacuation from Beaumont in mid-September, four of the 18 Buckner foster families fleeing the storm ran to Lufkin’s First Baptist Church. And the hurricane followed them there. Yet those affected in Lufkin were still ready to serve.

“I can’t say enough about the sweet people at Lufkin’s First Baptist,” said Judy Morgan, executive director of Buckner Children and Family Services in Deep East Texas. “They were volunteering their time and service under the most adverse conditions. A lot of them were having issues in their own homes concerning the hurricane, like losing electricity and suffering damage, but they were coming in to the church to make sure that our foster families were safe and had something to eat.”

Lufkin’s First Baptist regularly takes in Buckner evacuees. Just a few weeks prior, they took in foster families during Hurricane Gustav.

“During Hurricane Gustav, we hosted 22 people from Buckner foster families,” said Andy Pittman, pastor of Lufkin’s First Baptist. “For Hurricane Ike, we hosted 35 people. These 35 people included four foster families and two additional families who came as guests of the Buckner families.”

First Baptist church members pitched in to help serve the families for the second time this fall.

“I see this as a way for our church to accomplish two things,” Pittman said. “We learned more about social ministry … and we strengthened our relationship with Buckner.”

After staying on the church campus for four days, the families settled into Buckner Family Place in Lufkin.

“One of the many good things about Buckner is that we have a diverse number of ministries in different locations,” Morgan said. “When we can help each other out, we always do.”

Diverna Abatte, a foster mother of three, was one of those who stayed in Buckner Family Place. She said it was difficult for everyone to upset their routine, but some good things definitely came from it.

“I appreciated the camaraderie,” Abatte said. “We, as foster parents, don’t get to know each other a lot, but the foster families who stayed at the church, and then at Family Place, got the opportunity to get to know each other better.”

She said that if one foster family went out, they would ask the others if they needed something, and a number of them even convoyed back to Beaumont when the evacuation was lifted on Sept. 20. “And when we first got there, the Family Place people and Buckner had cleaning supplies, a trash can and a shower curtain available to help us get started in the apartments.”

Winnie Leviness, director of foster care in Beaumont, said that if it wasn’t for Family Place, these four families might be in a shelter.

“That means being with strangers and not knowing what their backgrounds are, and sharing communal showers. It might lead to safety issues with the children,” Leviness said. “The families here are very grateful to Buckner, they know that this is a gift and a blessing and they have been very verbal about being thankful for that and offering blessings.

Another group of Buckner people affected by Hurricane Ike were the children at Buckner children’s Village in Beaumont. The group of 42 children, plus employees and family members returned to Camp Buckner only a few days after the evacuation for Hurricane Gustav and spent 13 days there.

“The benefit of being connected to our other Buckner facilities in immeasurable,” said Greg Eubanks, team leader of Buckner in Beaumont. “In this case, a situation that could have been a trauma for our kids seemed more like a vacation.

Eubanks said that several others from the Austin area pitched in to help.

“We received bottled water from the local Red Cross shelter as well as donations from First Baptist in Austin,” he said, adding that Austin Christian Fellowship called and asked what we needed, so we came up with a list, and they responded with almost everything on that list. They even bought a hooded sweatshirt for every child because the weather changed once the hurricane front came through and a lot of the kids hadn’t packed more than one jacket.

“ACF brought snacks, games, DVDs, they gave us a donation that helped us take the kids bowling. They even brought their worship leader, J.R. Taylor and Christian music artist Jerry Wise who led us in worship at the Camp Buckner amphitheatre.”

“I’d like to thank everyone for their service,” Eubanks said. “And I’d also like to thank Lufkin’s First Baptist and Andy Pittman, there is something to be said for the church members who were serving our family meals when they had downed trees at their homes and many volunteers, donors and staff members needed to take care of their own personal business. We need them to know how much that meant to our families, kids and kids.”

Eubanks said that Buckner is now focusing its attention on recovery efforts.

“We continue to covet the support of our friends and community to help us repair damages to the campus for Buckner Children’s Village and to recover the costs of back-to-back evacuations,” he said.

Buckner is currently seeking donations to defray the costs of evacuations as well as the repairs to damages resulting from Hurricane Ike. To make a donation to Buckner, click here.

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