‘It’s like a warzone’: Manpower needed for Gilmer church-organized storm relief effort:- New Beginnings Baptist Church in Gilmer has been working with Upshur County officials to address the needs of residents affected by overnight Monday storms that produced three tornadoes in East Texas that injured eight people. The strongest of the tornadoes, an EF-2, started near Union Grove and tore a path northeast through the county.
Lead pastor of the church, the Rev. Todd Kaunitz, said the Gilmer campus was designated an emergency management center by Upshur County officials. The designation allows the church and county officials to work in tandem to expedite services and resources residents need, he said.
“There’s a coordinated effort to make sure that we’re meeting the most critical needs and help people in this time of crisis,” Kaunitz said. The church distributed more than 500 meals to people on Tuesday with plans to hand out 300 meals by lunchtime Wednesday.
Kaunitz said the biggest need for the relief effort is volunteers and manpower.
The church on Wednesday had 12 crews of volunteers throughout the area cleaning debris, but Kaunitz said it could use at least two dozen more along with large equipment to help move fallen trees and debris.
“The biggest thing we need is more volunteers. It’s like a warzone out there,” Kaunitz said.
The church has been working with Upshur County Emergency Managemet Coordinator Mark Nichols to ensure that when volunteers report, they are able to be put with a team, sent out and get to work as soon as they arrive, Kaunitz said.
“Essentially, everything is already set up and done ahead of time so that they just have to go,” he said.
Kaunitz said anyone who has a chainsaw or large moving equipment and can volunteer could help the effort.
Upshur County Storms
Joey McNatt speaks about volunteering with New Beginnings Baptist Church in Gilmer to help with storm recovery efforts along Texas 154 in Upshur County on Wednesday March 23, 2022. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)
At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Joey McNatt came from Liberty City with equipment in tow to help cleanup efforts at a property in Gilmer. Some volunteers had traveled from as far as Bossier City to join the effort, McNatt said.
While he doesn’t know anyone who was directly affected by the storm, McNatt said he felt compelled to help because “it’s the right thing to do.”
“I hope that if it happened to me people would help me out too,” McNatt said.
He said so far on Wednesday he had seen homes blown over, some totally destroyed, and others that had been wiped from the foundation.
“Whether it’s emotional, mental, financial, they need help and so that’s what we’re here to do — to get it cleaned up,” McNatt said.
Riley Adkinson of Gilmer is a member of New Beginnings, which is where he heard about the relief efforts. Adkinson on Wednesday was volunteering to clear debris on property where he said a former classmate lived. The classmate, Chris Davis, and his mother had their house destroyed by the storm Monday night.
“I think they’re still in shock really,” Adkinson said. “It’s just overwhelming right now just trying to get through the day-by-day …”
Adkinson said he decided to volunteer because that’s what people are supposed to do when they see others in need.
“We should reach out to them and just show them the love that God showed us and that’s what we’re here for,” Adkinson said.
Adkinson was tasked with cutting and piling trees and moving debris to make the area visible. While he said he’s helped friends after heavy storms, Adkinson had never been a part of a relief effort to the magnitude in Upshur County.
“It’s crazy. I’ve seen it other places (and) been through there, but (it’s) never really where you live at,” Adkinson said.
Kaunitz said he has been overwhelmed by the generosity he’s seen from residents in Upshur county, he said.