Using our RV lifestyle to enable disaster relief volunteering

There are a lot of reasons that we love our fulltime RV lifestyle, and the flexibility and opportunity it gives us are two of the main ones.  One opportunity that our flexible RV life has given us, is the chance to do volunteer work!  And some of our favorite work is disaster relief volunteering.  If you follow us on our facebook page, then you already know that we are currently near Dallas, helping out with some disaster relief volunteering cleanup efforts around Mesquite, Garland, and Rowlett.

After 11 tornadoes ripped through areas east of Dallas and in northeast Texas, one of our very favorite ministries, Samaritan’s Purse, sent 2 of their disaster relief units to the area to help homeowners clean up the mess.   The semis and trailers left first thing Monday morning, with tag teams driving, and showed up in the Dallas area on Tuesday.One of 5 disaster relief unit that deploy to areas after a disaster - it is part command center, part mobile tool trailer, and part shop!   ourtravelingtribe.comLike it or not, we showed up the same day! 😉
(ok, really, they knew were were available, and this is the location that they sent us to. lol.)

With approximately 1400 homes damaged and destroyed here, there is a lot of work to do.
A home destroyed by one of 11 tornadoes in Texas on 12/26/15.

This was our first disaster relief deployment where we were able to be here from the beginning.  With staff still arriving, just beginning to locate homeowners to assist, and the very beginning of getting volunteers organized, it has been an eye opener as to what it takes to get things rolling!
We arrived Tuesday night, and Vaughn and the boys thought that they would have some free time in the morning to get us propane and new batteries (we’ve been plugged in since we bought this thing, unless it was cold weather, and we figured that our ‘new’ battery was fine, just getting run down by the furnace – well, it’s not; it needs to be replaced).  The next morning, Vaughn came flying back into the rv lamenting that he should have been up at 6, saying something about assessing, which is looking at homes to determine what the crews can do, how long it will take, and how big of a team to send.  I pretty much have not seen him since! lol.  But that is ok – it’s why we are here!!!
The boys have been on quite a few disasters, and have a good grasp of what goes on, so they were put in charge of the registration table for the first (and a few subsequent) batch of volunteers.  Wednesday afternoon, while everything was still getting organized and ready to go, they had 250 volunteers show up!!!  When their neighbors need help here, Texas shows up!!!Our sons were put right to work processing volunteers for the first days of work in Garland, TX.

(our favorite soldier has been traveling with us since the beginning of December – this is his first SP deployment, and we are so tickled that he got to experience this with us! and yes, they put him right to work also!)

It has been a whirlwind of busyness ever since.  This deployment has been blessed to be hosted by a very involved church, and several surrounding churches are also pitching in by sending food and tons of volunteers!  And thank goodness…could you imagine being a single homeowner, or even a couple, or even a family of four, and ‘coming home’ to this…???
How hopeless would that feel???  Where to even start???A homeowner surveys her home that was destroyed by a tornado on 12/26/15.

That is why hundreds of volunteers will travel from around the country, joining thousands of local volunteers, to join together to show these homeowners that they are not alone.  That it’s not hopeless.  That many hands make light (or at least lightER) work.Surveying the tornado damage in Texas.

The guys get up and head to breakfast at 6:30 every morning.  After breakfast and devotions, the stay-on-site volunteers make their lunches for the day, while the new day volunteers are arriving and attending a mandatory orientation, and the return day volunteers soon show up to join in.  Next, everyone is broken up into groups, with size based on the jobs that need to be done that day, and each group is assigned to a Site Team Leader (SLT).  Site Team Leaders, like Vaughn, are the ones that are in charge of the teams on the field – keeping them busy (and safe), interacting with the homeowner, and making sure that everything gets done as it should. They also get to do the fun things like phone time scheduling jobs and filling out all the paperwork for the office manager.

A crew with Samaritan's Purse removing wet and ruined furniture and carpeting from a widow's home.

Everyone carpools to the area that they are volunteering in, and the teams meet before beginning each job to be briefed about the homeowner and what needs to be done.  Then the crews get to work! volunteering with Samaritan's Purse in Garland, TX During the job, each volunteer will take time out to sign a special study Bible that SP provides – each of the volunteers signs it, and after the work is completed, everyone gathers around the homeowner and the Bible is presented to them and they pray together. After completing a clean-up, the crew gathers with the homeowner to pray with them and present a bible to them.

Then it is off to the next house for the cleanup crew, but the homeowner is not just left on their own after the cleanup crew moves on.  The homeowner will also receive a visit from Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, and they will be followed up with again from a vetted local church.  Many of these people need more than just physical needs met, but emotional too, and this gives them the support that they might not otherwise receive.Home damaged in the Dec. 26th Garland, TX tornado.

After the volunteer teams are done for the day, the day volunteers either leave from the job site or head back to the church to pick up their vehicles.  The on-site volunteers head back to the church where they have about an hour to put away their stuff and clean up from the work day.  Dinner is served at 6, followed by ‘share time’, which is when the on-site volunteers share things that happened during the day – anything from asking prayer for a burdened homeowner to a blessing that they got from the day to things they learned about this disaster/area (like here in Rowlett, the debris has to be sorted with each type (bricks, wood, insulation…) in its own pile or the city will not pick it up!!! – This is something that they did not share with any of the volunteer organizations at first!).

After share time, then its usually about 8, and time to hit the hay since 6am comes really early after a long day of physical labor!  Sometimes those younger volunteers tho will stay up late and fellowship or just have fun – like last night – all my boys rolled in about 10 after staying in the church playing some new Uno game with a few of the other volunteers.

Volunteering with SP on the Texas tornadoes of 12.26.15.    ourtravelingtribe.comDisaster relief volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse has been such a blessing to our family, and to our kids (the minimum age for volunteering with SP is 14, for liability reasons).  We have seen them mature in ways that we would not have expected, and love to see their hearts touched for others and to see them act on it; to see them step out of their comfort zones and stretch themselves because they know it will bless others.

This video, from Samaritan’s Purse International Disaster Relief Organization, is about their efforts here in Garland, and in it Vaughn shares our love of working with SP (please watch it – it is short, and you will enjoy it!)…

If you have any questions about volunteering, either in general, or disaster relief volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse, please feel free to ask – we love to share our passions in the hope that they will inspire you to find yours!

(we also have another post with information and links for volunteering otr: Family Volunteering Opportunities)

Lilla Rose

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  1. Just found your blog and I cannot wait to read more about your families travels.

  2. Sara Bilodeau says

    Hey, I heard the ALERT guys are going to be there too. I know you got to work with them in the past…they are a great group! My nephew, Blair Edwards, should be among them. That would be cool if your guys met him. They would have a lot in comman!

    • Yes, Sara, there are about 25 ALERT guys here – I think they are the second batch on this deployment. Always such a pleasure to be around! I told Vaughn to keep an eye out for Blair and make sure the guys met! 😀

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