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Baton Rouge church houses Red Cross volunteers

Jennifer Briggs and Meredith Carlson prepare food for American Red Cross volunteers staying at Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, La.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Betty Backstrom and Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 3, 2008 | BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS)

Michael Crockrell

Experienced Red Cross volunteers from all over the United States know that the "Broadmoor Hilton" is the place to stay in southern Louisiana.

Broadmoor United Methodist Church earned the nickname because of its Christian hospitality after housing disaster relief workers for the American Red Cross following Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

The Baton Rouge church is located in one of the many areas damaged by Hurricane Gustav. The Category 2 hurricane ripped through the city with gusts of up to 91 miles per hour on Labor Day.

The church starting preparing for the volunteers four days before the storm hit and more than 170 cots lined the gym. Like most of the rest of the city, Broadmoor was without power on the day after the hurricane, but church and Red Cross volunteers managed to keep the kitchen operating to feed volunteers, thanks to gas stoves and generators.

Mary Grace Simpson

Mary Grace Simpson, hospitality chairperson for the shelter, said members of Broadmoor are always eager to support Red Cross volunteers.

"One Sunday morning after Katrina, they announced from the pulpit that volunteers were needed to wash towels that had been used by the Red Cross workers," said Simpson. After the service, members lined up to receive bags filled with dirty towels to wash, dry and return to the church.

The church has a long-standing history of hospitality during emergencies and times of need, according to Michael Cockrell, the church’s business administrator. It is the full-time home of an ecumenical assistance and food program called Southeast Ministries.

"After Katrina, we were able to help a lot of families that relocated from New Orleans. The church has regular food drives that keep our pantries stocked," Cockrell said.

Cockrell is certain the ministry will reach out to those affected by Hurricane Gustav, too. "We’ve gotten pretty good at hosting dinners for hundreds who are looking for a hot meal at Thanksgiving," he said.

Brian Flynn

Red Cross volunteer Brian Flynn from Columbus, Ohio, calls the people of Broadmoor United Methodist Church the "most hospitable host group that he has ever worked with" in his role as shelter coordinator.

"When they landed at the Baton Rouge airport, the experienced volunteers all wanted to come to the Broadmoor Hilton," Simpson said with a laugh.

The church's second-mile hospitality is not only helpful and practical, it is spiritually meaningful to the volunteers, according to Simpson, who remembers what one volunteer wrote on a paper banner that hung in the church following Katrina.

"He wrote, 'Church members taking our clothes home to wash reminded me of Jesus washing the disciples' feet,'" Simpson recalled. "It makes me cry every time I think about that."

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference. Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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