Atlantic City, NJ: Burlington Retiree Helps New Jersey Recover

Bob Finley volunteered in New Jersey with N.C. Baptist Men.

By  Andrew Creech |

Bob Finley volunteered in New Jersey with N.C. Baptist Men.

 Two days after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief arrived with three mobile kitchens, a command unit, mobile showers, laundry facilities, generators, and recovery units.

The three mobile kitchens, capable of churning out 80,000 meals a day, were placed at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.; Toms River, N.J.; and Atlantic City. Additionally, personnel working in recovery, administration, and chaplaincy arrived to help the devastated area.

Bobby Finley, who retired four years ago after working as safety officer in Burlington and Chapel Hill, was the site safety officer for the relief effort at Toms River. Finley, who joined the NCBM Disaster Relief just a few months after his retirement, arrived in Toms River at 11 p.m. on Nov. 1. The rest of the volunteers, totaling 39 men and women, arrived by 4 a.m. on Nov. 2. After only getting a few hours of sleep, the team assembled equipment and began cooking.

Toms River was the home of the NCBM Disaster Relief Feeding Unit No. 3, which is able to serve 20,000 hot meals a day.

“The Red Cross provides the food, Baptist men cook the food,” Finley said. “We serve the food to people that either walk in to the feeding site, or drive their cars there and we simple have a drive-through lane; you drive up and tell us how many meals you need, and we stick it in the window.”

Finley said there are also Red Cross vehicles that load up meals from the mobile kitchen and drive them into rural areas.

The recovery trailer at Toms River contained large amounts of equipment such as chainsaws and other gear to clean up the disaster area. Most of the volunteers there were from the Asheville area. Finley, at 71, was one of the younger volunteers, with the oldest being an 84-year-old man. Finley was the only volunteer from the First Baptist Church in Burlington.

“I think one of the things that grabbed me the most was while I was at the Red Cross emergency shelter … I saw a group coming down the hallway. It was a volunteer, in front of a line of people … like a train coming down the hallway, and each one had his or her hand on the shoulders of the person in front. They were blind. And they were being led to the restroom. The only way they could get them all there with the limited number of volunteers they had, was a volunteer with the first person in line, backing up, leading this line of blind people who couldn’t see where they were, probably didn’t even understand some of what was going on around them.”

In the week he was in New Jersey, NCBM had worked 900 volunteer days and served 120,000 meals. Other volunteers replaced them and are still carrying on the effort. Monday evening, Finley arrived back at his home in Burlington, where he lives with his wife.

Volunteers normally work for three to five days plus travel, usually meaning at least a week’s commitment. Steve Reavis, a CPA at Reavis and Parrish PA on South Mebane Street, is the incident commander for the efforts of Baptist Men in all of New Jersey.

In the first few years with NCBM, Finley mostly worked with training volunteers, especially in forklift safety, but said, “I instruct safety in a variety of things.” The first and worse disaster he helped work was in North Carolina in April 2011 when 90 tornadoes tore through the state, killing 24 people. Finley was working site safety in Sanford and feeding people in Raleigh.

North Carolina and Texas are the leaders in Baptist disaster relief efforts. While they have to be invited into a disaster area, they are glad to help.

“Once we arrive, we stay until the need is taken care of,” Finley said.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Baptist volunteers were helping in Texas for two years.

Within 24 hours after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, NCBM were at the Pentagon handing out meals. Similarly, the day after a tsunami devastated Japan in March 2011, the NCBM International Search and Rescue team was on the ground in Japan.

In 2011, NCBM began training with a federally issued mobile hospital. The hospital takes over 16 tractor trailers to transport and is over three football fields long when set up.

“Once set up, it can perform most any operation/procedure except open heart surgery,” Finley said.

The NCBM has earned a great deal of respect in recent years.

“We wear yellow shirts, and yellow hats. When national guardsmen have an area cordoned off and they see Baptist Men coming in in yellow, they don’t even slow down. They move the barricade and welcome you in, because of the reputation the Baptist men have” Finley said.