DALLAS, TEXAS — Toni Custer, of Versailles, Ohio, attends Oakland Church of the Brethren, in Bradford.
Recently, Custer has been serving her church in Dallas, Texas, through two ministries: Brethren Disaster Ministries and Children’s Disaster Services (CDS), which is a partner agency with the American Red Cross. CDS provides childcare in shelters and disaster assistance centers by training and certifying volunteers to respond to traumatized children with a calm, safe and reassuring presence. Through consultation or workshops, specifically tailored to each situation, CDS works with parents, community agencies, schools or others to help them understand and meet the special needs of children during or after a disaster, according to CDS.
Custer left Saturday, September 2, and will return tomorrow. She said 14 days is the longest deployment.
“They want people to go home and rest,” she said.
Custer said the weather in Dallas is beautiful, which is why they are sheltering these people there, because there is no damage. The roads were flooded in San Antonio, and folks could not get through, she said. Custer started out in San Antonio, where they were transitioning people into smaller shelters throughout the city. One was a closed-down middle school that was in really good shape, she said. It housed people still trying to find alternative housing or waiting to get back into their homes. She and other volunteers were there about one week. Now she is in a mega shelter in Dallas, where cots are set up for about 5,000 people, from around the Houston area. She is serving around 3,000 in the shelter, which is one floor of a four-story parking garage. One of the bigger problems is plumbing, she said.
“They brought in major port-a-potties and temporary showers and toilets,” she said. “We are there to provide daycare for the kids during the day. If someone needs to go to the bathroom, it is a 15-minute walk. Two of the volunteers need to go every time a child needs to go to the bathroom.”
Custer and the other volunteers are in a fenced area, three-parking spots wide in the parking garage. They provide activities for the children, ages 7-11, during the day, such as: playing games and painting. The Southern Baptist Men’s Convention, of Texas, is another group within the shelter, providing daycare for the those from ages birth to age seven.
“People are very very appreciative that someone is thinking of the needs of their children, when they are in a shelter situation,” Custer said. “The children have been through a really traumatic experience. Many of them talk about the storm, walking through the water, and being lifted into helicopters from rooftops. These are children that have had a very scary experience in their lives, and a temporary housing situation that can be overwhelming and scary too. Many family members are very appreciative that we understand and are connecting with the people, as they need to get services, get back to into their homes, or are just getting a break. A situation like this, that is 24/7 without privacy, can be overwhelming. We hope to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a situation this bad, to be there and to offer comfort when they need someone. This is my first experience doing this. We try to outguess what the weather is going to do, and everyone is trying to be prepared. As soon as we think we are ahead of the game, everything changes and that is what is really hard. People are wonderful; thousands of and thousands of local volunteers are here from all over. The people of Texas are amazing and have done an awesome job to help everything run smoothly.”
Custer said she had to go through specialized training to be a volunteer for CDS. Her previous experience has helped her prepare. She retired a year ago, as the Director of Early Childhood for the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities. She started her career in teaching, and worked in Darke County about 20 years and the last 10 years in Shelby County.
“When I retired, I decided I wanted to be a part of this, put my faith into action, and go help others when they need it,” she said. I have spent my whole career serving and working with children, and I wanted to continue that in a way that I could be of service to families and children.”
For those interested in serving with CDS, visit http://www.brethren.org/cds. Custer said, no religious affiliation is required.
“Every deployment is different,” she said. “People need to be open who want to go. You could be sleeping on a cot in the shelter. You have to be very flexible. We have no predictions, we go day by day, and that’s the part of it people need to understand. If you sign up, you have to come down and let them use you however they are going to use you.”
In addition, Outreach Leader of Bradford Church of the Brethren Jennifer Reed said the church is heading up disaster relief through a partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization, providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Reed said the hope is to send a team of people to help, and will go where Samaritan’s Purse sends them. The church is looking for volunteers who can go for a week-long trip. To take the trip, a church affiliation is not required, Reed said. The church is having a meeting for anyone interested in going, Sunday, September 24 at the church, located at 120 W. Oakwood Street, in Bradford, at 5 p.m. At that meeting, decisions will be made on where they will be going and when.
“I want to take anybody that has the heart to go and serve the people who have been affected,” she said. “A lot of people want to do something, but don’t feel comfortable to go alone. We can go together.”
To sign up for the Hurricane Relief Trip at Bradford Church of the Brethren, call Jennifer at 937-418-7119.