Church members come from far and
wide to repair hundreds of houses
By: Jamie Reid, The Enterprise 01/13/2006
Volunteers Lucero Ocon, left, Michel Gil and Vanessa Gil haul shingles away from Rafael Duran’s home. Jehovah’s Witness volunteers have been repairing damage done by Hurricane Rita.
BEAUMONT - Each weekend since October, Danny Farrow has driven about 90 miles to the Golden Triangle, where he lives in a trailer and feeds thousands of homemade meals to volunteers.
He could be golfing. He could be fishing.
Instead, he's feeding hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses who come to the area to rebuild hurricane-damaged homes.
They arrive at the area Kingdom Halls from all over the state - and some from beyond its borders - to repair more than 850 homes that belong to their "brothers and sisters," other Jehovah's Witnesses.
They will stay until the work here is done, about three to four months, J.C. Avila Beaumont hub coordinator at the North Major Drive site, said. And after that, some volunteers likely will help out in Louisiana, he said.
"This is probably the one organization you will see that will see this project to the end," Farrow said.
(Seems somewhat arrogant).
Jehovah's Witnesses who can't drive to Southeast Texas donate money to help the cause, Avila said, which is used to buy supplies and food. Also, several nonprofit groups, like the Red Cross, have donated frozen and canned foods.
Since early October, the volunteers have completed more than 400 homes. About 260 homes remain in Beaumont and Orange, with another 150 in the northern counties, Avila said.
No one is paid. No one is forced to work.
They volunteer their weekends because the Bible tells them to, Avila said.
The Bible instructs people to love each other, Avila said before quoting John 13:34-35:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Helping someone rebuild a home is the best way these men and women know how to show their love right now, they said.
Jehovah's Witnesses also rebuilt homes damaged during Hurricane Allison in 2001 and Florida homes damaged in recent hurricanes.
"I can't fix everything in the world," said Michael Perham, 47, of Rosenberg. "My little contribution is the best I can do."
Perham said he would like to help more people who are not Jehovah's Witnesses but added, "You gotta look after your family. You can't take care of everyone in the world."
Taking care of other Jehovah's Witnesses is a large enough task.
On Christmas weekend, close to 1,000 people volunteered, Avila said. On New Year's weekend, about 800 assisted. Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate holidays.
So many volunteers and so many homes could become a logistical disaster.
The volunteers obviously are experienced. They have set up stations - assessments, food service, administration, first aid, and trucking - to keep everything running smoothly.
Chris Alberga, 28, of Van Vleck in Matagorda County, began volunteering last month in the administration office. He makes sure the programs that chart people's names, phone numbers, addresses and problems are working.
At the first-aid station, volunteer nurses, paramedics and doctors take care of cuts, burns and other medical problems.
When workers were chopping trees off homes a couple of months ago, a few people hurt themselves with chain saws, said Perham, a paramedic. Those people were taken to the hospital for stitches, he said.
Now, most injuries are related to food service, he said.
Volunteer cooks wake at 3 a.m. to start breakfast. Meals must be packaged and taken to other volunteers in Orange, Silsbee and Port Arthur by 5:45 a.m., Farrow said.
On a recent Saturday, volunteers ate Italian sausage for lunch and gumbo for dinner. That was 160 gallons of gumbo - one batch with shrimp and crawfish, another without.
Cooksy work in two trailers equipped with two long grills, 12 low-boy burners, five convection ovens and one char grill.
Farrow won't let the men (the women don't cook) talk while cooking because saliva could end up in the 20- or 25-gallon pots, making diners sick.
Dennis Cantrell, 49, of Houston travels every weekend to rebuild homes.
Usually, dozens of people (as many as 50) work on one home, he said. It makes for a tight work space but gets a house done quickly, he said.
People often have tears of thanks in their eyes, Cantrell said. But that's not why he does the work. He volunteers because it's what the Bible instructs him to do.
"We live our lives around our religion," Cantrell said. "Not our religion around our lives."
Many volunteers want the work here to finish quickly so they can get back to door-to-door witnessing.
Evangelizing has fallen off since the storm because so many people are busy repairing homes, volunteers said.