The Lakehills United Methodist Church has embarked on a new endeavor to support the community in its time of need. Hearing about evacuation orders from Medina County due to the Das Goat Fire, the church council began talking about what the church could do to help. As the fire conditions seemed to worsen by the minute, they immediately hit on the idea of becoming a shelter for evacuees and their pets.
Not thinking beyond helping people, Pastor Dawn Baird and her church council emailed and texted the 225 church members to help prepare for incoming evacuees and their pets. Lakehills UMC was one of only two sites accepting pets in the area.
Harnessing the power of social media, Baird made short videos explaining the situation and asking for assistance. Local television stations and other social media sites picked up on the church’s message, and it spread.
The church received donations of cots, toiletries, bedding, clothing, food and water.
“We put a plea out to the community and the response was unbelievable. We had everything donated that we could possibly need or want by 9 o’clock that night,” remarked Baird.
Bandera’s Lowe’s Market contacted the church and brought enough food to feed 100 people. The church received so much donated water they were able to share 80 cases with the Mico Fire Department. The church also received donations of kennels and 450 pounds of dog food.
Two mental health counselors offered their services for those who needed it. The church has a Wesley nurse on staff who could help with any health concerns, and they also have a critical care nurse from University Hospital who offered her services.
“I was a former nurse before I became a pastor, and we also have a woman who is a retired dentist,” said Baird. Several parishioners also had experience in relief programs.
Other churches offered food and cooking services to the church. O’Connor High School offered its Ag Barn to house any small animals or livestock that people had brought with them. A veterinarian from Helotes offered to treat injured animals brought into the shelter with the evacuees.
As evacuees drifted into the church, some stayed while others called family for rides into San Antonio. A total of 10 evacuees and two dogs were served at the church.
A common thread among the evacuees was they were “shell shocked” and in disbelief, according to Baird. Two of the families were shopping in San Antonio and came home to find Texas Rangers on their front porches telling them to evacuate. One family was only allowed into their house to get their dogs to take with them.
“What we kept telling [the evacuees] is that they were our guests. They were to want for nothing. We welcomed them as if they were coming into our personal homes to stay. So, we wanted to make sure they were comfortable, and their needs met,” commented Baird. “We wanted them to know they were loved,”
Every part of the church family got involved in the shelter project. The elderly members of the church, who could do very little physically, donated to the project and prayed for the evacuees.
The church’s elementary school group, who usually meets in the church hall, gave it up to house the evacuees and moved their Monday night program outside. The night’s lesson was on neighbors helping neighbors. One youngster even volunteered to smile at the evacuees to help lift their spirits.
Some people chose to give monetarily to the project.
“We have already set up a designated fund through the church. So, as we said the mission hall has showers, a washer and dryer, and a commercial kitchen. But we found we needed things like a plastic shelf unit and plastic bins for evacuees to store their personal toiletries,” said Baird.
She emphasized that the church’s goal was to raise their shelter services to a higher standard and make their site top notch.
The church applied to Medina and Bandera Counties to be approved as an evacuation shelter during the crisis and recovery.
“The Medina County Health Unit came out and inspected today, so we are now approved to be a shelter for crisis and recovery incidents,” said Baird. “We have background checks on all the people who did stay here with the evacuees.”
The Lakehills UMC’s shelter is capped at 100 people. “Looking at state statistics, we could house 150 to 175 people who are in a crisis. But the evacuees don’t need to be on top of one another, so we capped it at 100,” said Baird.
“It was just like pushing a domino, everything fell into place so that we knew that this was meant to be,” reflected Pastor Dawn Baird. “We are already seeing the fires popping back up, but we are ready. We have a list of primary team members, then a secondary team and so on,”