Volunteers provide meals, support until search for Pinson toddler ends
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
PINSON — The halls of Pinson Baptist Church are no longer a flurry of activity. After seven days of hosting law enforcement personnel, emergency management personnel, and volunteers who came from several states to search for 2-year-old Noah Chamberlin, another press conference was held on Thursday, Jan. 21. It was one people prayed wouldn’t occur.
In tears, Chester County Sheriff Blair Weaver announced that the toddler’s body had been found. Then John Gaters, pastor of Pinson Baptist, led those gathered in the hymn, “Carry Me.”
The toddler disappeared on Jan. 14 while on an afternoon walk in the woods with his grandmother and 4-year-old sister behind his grandparent’s home.
“It’s so sad that they couldn’t find him alive. But I’m glad for the family that they did find him so now they can have some closure. It’s so sad, a tragedy for them,” said Tommy Warner, director of missions, Hardeman County Baptist Association, based in Bolivar, who was present for the press conference.
People here also are grieving for the many law enforcement personnel involved in the exhaustive search, said Warner. “The sheriff was really upset about it,” he explained.
Noah’s family is a Christian family so their faith will help them, added Warner. The family’s pastor attended the press conference to represent the family.
Pinson Baptist, which was used by the Sheriff’s Department and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency as a command center, is located about two miles from the search area.
Warner was there as part of the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who fed the personnel and searchers.
John and Angela Gaters also were present for the press conference. John had become a representative of the community for the media and Angela directed the work of the command center. The church was open 24/7 for the seven days of the search, they reported.
The church’s educational buil-ding was filled with items to help the searchers such as boxes of handwarmer packets and snacks. The fellowship hall was a place to enjoy a warm drink and a snack.
The pastor said he was so proud of his church and its 150 active members who all became involved in the search and supported the church’s strategic role in this crisis.
The involvement of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief was unusual in that the organization was responding to this kind of disaster for the first time, explained several of the veteran disaster relief workers.
David Gatlin, director of the team that provided the meals, said he had been a DR volunteer for 26 years and always served victims of storms until 9/11
when he helped feed victims of terrorism and responders in Manhattan. “But we’re glad to help here. We’re always ready to go when they need us.”
The DR feeding team was requested by TEMA and its director, David Sledge, who is a member of Hermitage Hills Baptist Church, Hermitage, noted Wes Jones, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief specialist.
The Hardeman County Association team of about 13 volunteers rotated in and out to provide hot meals. Several local churches also provided meals. About 300 people were served at each meal. Most of the meals were taken to the search site.
The team was supported by Tennessee Baptist DR which paid for the food and Pinson Baptist which hosted them allowing them to use their facilities.
Jones noted that he hopes DR teams can help more often when these kinds of disasters occur.
“We need to be involved in more of these type of things to keep our people active and involved in the local community,” said Jones.
Barbara Grant and Faye Tomlinson of the DR team, who along with Gatlin have served as volunteers for about 26 years, agreed that they had never worked at this kind of disaster before.
Tomlinson said she was glad to be involved because everyone was trying to help a defenseless child who reminded her of her grandchildren.
Warner reported that he was so proud of the DR team. It was apparent they are well trained, he added.
He said the team did “what Baptists are really supposed to do, to meet the needs in our community as a way to point people to Christ.”