Distance from the disaster region isn’t stopping some Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner churches from providing temporary housing for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

With Houston’s Astrodome filling to capacity according to news reports, evacuees are turning to other nearby options such as Willow Meadows Baptist Church, which is less than two miles from the Astrodome. On Friday afternoon, the church was housing 50 people and had turned away more than 40 families, said the church’s pastor, Gary Long.

“We’re not trying to help everybody. We’re trying to help some and stick with them until they get their needs met,” Long said.

Church members are also forming assessment teams to go from hotel to hotel talking with evacuees to determine needs that can be met by the church’s resources. Currently, the church is in need of food, clothing and bedding donations. These donations can be sent to Willow Meadows Baptist Church, 4300 West Bellfort Ave., Houston, Texas77035.

South Main Baptist Church, also in Houston, had 48 people, including 12 children, living in its gymnasium on Friday afternoon.

“Tuesday we didn’t know anybody was coming here, and today there are 30,000 people here looking for a place [to live],” said the church’s pastor, Steve Wells.

The church, a member of Houston’s Midtown Emergency Aid Coalition, will be working with other churches and organizations to best meet developing needs of evacuees.

“We’re going to rise to the occasion, and we’re going to take care of these folks,” Wells said. “We have to prepare our [church members] for a marathon, not a sprint.”

Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, was housing 33 people Friday afternoon with the expectation of more evacuees being referred to the church by the American Red Cross.

The church, which can house up to 100 people, received donations of supplies and living necessities from community members, other area churches and the Salvation Army.

“We have been enlisting a lot of church members, but we’ve had such an outpouring of support from the community that we’re enlisting community volunteers,” said Leslie Rosencrans, the church’s minister of congregational life.

When the church reaches capacity, other Waco congregations will house evacuees, Rosencrans said.

In Knoxville, Tenn., the Red Cross has asked Central Baptist Church Bearden to house up to 75 people for a month in the church’s family activity center. The Red Cross will provide most of the meals, with the church also contributing. Church members will volunteer around the clock at the shelter to meet any needs that arise.

“We don’t know who this population is, but people are ringing their hands with what can we do, so we did not hesitate to do this when we were asked,” said Robert Bowman, the church’s associate pastor for missions.

Contributing financial resources hasn’t been enough involvement for some churches. After giving $10,000 to the relief effort, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., is exploring other ways to help, said Randy Hyde, the church’s pastor. Some church members are spending this weekend cleaning the church’s storage building and making plans to house refugees. The church also hopes to use its bus to provide local transportation for children displaced by the storm.

“This is not a situation that will be remedied in a couple of weeks. Our purpose is to be the presence of Christ wherever God shows us the need. It is the least we can do,” Hyde said.

The Fellowship is not organizing an official clearinghouse service for home placement, said David Harding, the Fellowship’s Orlando-based international coordinator for emergency response. Harding said individuals or churches can do this on an informal referral or case-by-case basis.

Carla Wynn writes for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

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