Sager Brown continues to serve the world during disasters

September 30, 2016
UMCOR Sager Brown Depot is nestled in the heart of “Cajun Country.” The international depot, located southeast of Lafayette, Louisiana in Baldwin, serves as a ministry of The United Methodist Church and a  key distribution site for relief items such as cleaning buckets, health kits and other supplies that are critical in the wake of disasters.

Sager Brown got its start in 1867 when it originated as a school and orphanage for African American children in need. The school closed in 1978, but was reborn as a disaster center in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew devastated St. Mary Parish and the community surrounding Sager Brown.

According to the website of the internationally renowned disaster relief depot, UMCOR Sager Brown “serves as a Christian ministry that provides hospitality, education and hands on mission opportunities to nearly 3,000 volunteers from across the United States each year.” In addition to experiencing hands-on mission projects in the Baldwin community, volunteers work in the depot sorting, verifying and packing various relief kits.

The Rev. Debbie Drash, an ordained elder retired from the Louisiana Conference, was serving at Sager Brown this past week with a group of volunteers from First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Florida. Drash, currently serving as the chaplain for Lakeland Regional Hospital, recalls that in 1992 in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, she had the opportunity to serve as the Acadiana District Coordinator for Disaster Relief. At the time, the depot was just a gym. “It’s amazing to Sager Brown now,” said Drash, referencing the depot’s expansive facility.
The retired Louisiana pastor said she was “very touched to hear the story” of recent floods that devastated south Louisiana, and felt the need to come to Sager Brown to help with the relief effort. “When we arrived on Sunday, I felt I had stepped on holy ground,” said Drash. She added that the efforts at Sager Brown are “sanctified work” that Christians for so many generations have been called to do.
She added that it felt good to know that the cleaning bucket that had been assembled by two children in her neighborhood would possibly be sending a “message of hope” to another little boy or girl that had survived a disaster somewhere across the globe.
Bob Bradford, a member of First UMC in Lakeland, was also with the group of volunteers from Florida. The retiree said that he was enjoying his experience at Sager Brown. “It feels good to do something for somebody else. Something that needs to be done,” he said. “When you go home, you feel good.”
Another member of First UMC, Julie Holman, was making her “second or third” visit to Sager Brown. When asked why she continues to return to the depot, she explained that the experience offers her volunteer opportunities  that she is physically capable of performing. “This is a mission trip that I can physically do. It is a way to help other people . . .I go to the sewing room and spend a whole week sewing, doing my favorite thing.” Although Julie feels that she cannot physically “go overseas” on mission trips, she is glad that the response efforts coming out of Sager Brown serve an international audience.
Serving as the “hands and feet of Christ” is a rewarding experience, said Rev. Drash, who encourages others to take advantage of this unique volunteer opportunity. “Come and see if you like it. (Sager Brown) is a wonderful welcoming place of hospitality. They will treat you right.”   
“There’s always going to be a tragedy. There’s always going to be a disaster. . .God’s people are called to step forward and say, ‘Send me.’” 

To view a video by Todd Rossnagel, Director of Communication Strategies for the Louisiana Conference focusing on Sager Brown click here.

Story by Betty Backstrom, Communication Liaison for the Louisiana Conference

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