By Jeff Brumley
The Central Texas city rocked by a fertilizer plant explosion took a giant leap toward recovery last week during “Loving West,” a cleanup campaign organized by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Planners with BGCT disaster recovery say 642 volunteers participated during the seven-day event that ended Friday. They completed nearly 300 projects, ranging from mowing lawns to removing debris from homes and lots damaged in the April 17 explosion that killed 15, injured 200 and left 141 homes and a school condemned.
Organizers, volunteers and residents alike agreed that West is much further down the road toward making a physical and emotional comeback because of the project.
“I am just so thrilled to see the town starting to heal,” John Crowder, the pastor of First Baptist Church of West, posted on Facebook over the weekend. “If you have a chance to drive through and see the progress, you should do that because it is so encouraging.”
Crowder’s church has been leading its own campaign to demolish condemned homes, and so far has done 60. “Loving West” volunteers helped clear those lots of debris plus succeeded in removing all the rubble from an apartment building destroyed in the explosion.
“The city is starting to look so much better,” Crowder said. “New houses are being built (and) there are even new flowers in the beds at City Hall. What a great week this has been.”
The nearly 30 volunteers from Waco’s Seventh and James Baptist Church found the work difficult but rewarding, Associate Pastor Matt Rosencrans said.
“We were certainly excited to be able to go,” Rosencrans said. “And we certainly underestimated the level of destruction and difficulty of the work.”
It also made them aware of the long-term need in West and has inspired the church to look for ways to continue helping.
“We will be back,” he said.
The BGCT has made arrangements for church groups to continue volunteering in West by posting a volunteer coordinator at First Baptist, said Marla Bearden, disaster-response specialist.
The church will also host visiting work teams, she said.
It’s quite a pleasant development for coordinators who, just a couple weeks before the event, worried there wouldn’t be enough work to do for all the volunteers, Bearden said.
“All of it has helped lift the spirits of the city, not having to drive around and look at all the trash,” she said.