Reaching out

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GCSO looks to partner with churches

By Robert Allen

With more than 300 churches in Gadsden County, local law enforcement leaders are looking for these faith-based organizations to help out in tough times.

Maj. Shawn Wood shared this during a June 19 meeting with some local pastors at the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office.

He said Sheriff Morris Young is interested in mobilizing churches and congregations across the county into a support network in the event of a disaster, such as a powerful hurricane or widespread forest fire.

Wood began by relating a story about two pastors who helped save the day by calming hundreds of frantic parents blocking the passage of ambulances after the recent school bus crash in Chattahoochee. 

“I have what I do — my nature,” said Wood. “I’m the guy you call when something really bad is happening, and you feel like you need a warrior on your side. That’s me. That’s my nature. That’s who I am. But see, as a pastor, your call is different than mine.”

Would also said local church involvement could be relied on in ways unmatched by the government. 

“I’m going to tell you something,” said Wood. “The government isn’t coming. They aren’t coming.”

According to Wood’s presentation, the GCSO plan for church involvement includes several aspects. Wood presented the benefits of utilizing pastors as liaisons between the deputies and families of victims, channeling emergency information through the churches’ internal sources of communication, staging rescue operations and housing displaced people in church buildings or on church properties, distributing necessities through congregational outreach and developing an evacuation system by encouraging churches to establish two-way housing arrangements with sister churches.

In regard to this last point, Wood said, “Don’t depend on the government to transport you, because it’s going to be miserable and you’re going to be put in a shelter. 

Young said after becoming sheriff, he began viewing the church as one collective whole — rather than various denominations and isolated institutions. Now, he said, that collective whole can prepare to fill another critical role in the community. 

According to Wood, the No. 1 thing the deputies talk about at the sheriff’s office is service — and part of serving the people is finding the best person for the job. 

“So what I’m trying to do is be the quarterback, and I want to hand you all the ball. I want you to do what you do. One, I don’t like to do it. So I would rather you do it. And it’s not that I can’t do it. You do a better job than I do.”

The meeting precedes this year’s Rural County Summit, which will focus on community disaster and emergency response. The four-day event will include a final day, July 12, when anyone in the community interested in becoming involved with volunteer emergency response is invited.