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Faith-based group deploys hurricane relief teams to Sarasota County

A semi truck that reads Missouri Baptist Dsisaster Relief
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Relief groups have set up shop in the parking lot at First Baptist Church in Venice.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers arrived in Florida just days after Hurricane Ian made landfall.

A faith-based group with members from four Midwest states are trying to help parts of southwestern Florida devastated by Hurricane Ian.

The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team has transformed the parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Venice into a command center with tents and several large semi-trucks. One is a mobile kitchen and the other houses six shower facilities.

The volunteers have come from Missouri, Michigan, Kansas and Illinois. They arrived in Florida just days after Hurricane Ian made landfall.

Mike Hibard of Missouri oversees the operation. He says they've received more than 200 requests for help with clearing debris and fixing property damage.

Those are being prioritized by the age and health of people seeking aid — and all the services are free.

"We don't charge anybody,” he said. “We will service the community. Whatever you need, we want to know. We have chainsaw units that are out cutting trees, taking out debris. If your house has been flooded, we can take out any contaminated things that are there. We can take the drywall up, the floors, the carpet — get it clean. That way folks are ready to rebuild something new and fresh."

Three people with backs turned wearing yellow shirts unload truck
Cathy Carter
Less than a week following the storm, the relief group had begun providing 2,700 meals per day to the Venice community.

Residents can also come by the church for bottled water and bags of ice. Lunch is served in the church hall daily at noon and dinner is at 7pm.

The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has partnered with several other churches in Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers and Charlotte County.

David Coggins, director of disaster relief for the Florida Baptist Convention, said groups had staged equipment and made arrangements for a response ahead of the storm — and Hibard says the volunteers plan to remain in Venice for at least the next three weeks.

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