Making a Difference ... one trailer at a time

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- In July 1994, Albany was inundated by a 500-year flood. As the disaster unfolded before him, Charles Freeman saw a unique need developing.

"The volunteers were sweaty, muddy and had no place to take hot showers," Freeman recalled. "We tried to find a mobile shower unit and couldn't. So, I designed one and we built it."

During the flood, volunteers were bused to Darton College, the YMCA and churches to take showers.

"They'd wait in line for nearly two hours to take a shower," Freeman said. "It was often 9 or 10 o'clock before they could rest. That was unacceptable to me."

That first unit spawned an entire family of disaster relief trailers and ministries.

Since then, Freeman and an army of volunteers have built mobile showers, ice units, bathrooms, tool trailers and sleeping quarters.

"I've lost count, but I guess we've built well over 100 trailers," Freeman said. "They're all over the country. We are non-profit. All our time is given and we never charge for our services.

"There are three things a disaster recovery volunteer needs -- a place to sleep, a place to eat and a place to take a hot shower. We are filling one of those needs.

In August 1997, Freeman was commissioned by the North American Mission Board as a Mission Service Corps missionary. "As a MSC missionary, I am self-supporting. I raise my own living and mission field expenses. This is what God has led me to do."

In addition to his "Shower Trailer Ministry", Freeman also serves several other areas of disaster relief:

"Outhouse " Ministry

A concept of using the old "outhouse" look and redesigning it for shower facilities at a fraction of the cost of a shower unit as well as quick response.

Hygiene Ministry

A gallon zip bag filled with personal items such as soap, toothbrushes, shampoo, etc., distributed to disaster volunteers.

Pots and Pans

And other kitchen items distributed to families in the recovery process.

The Prepared Family Ministry

Which is an educational program that helps families catalog personal assets and personal information in order to be prepared for a crisis.

"When we started, I barely knew which end of a screwdriver to use," Freeman recalled. "My friend, C.B. Fincher, is a frustrated engineer and did most of the technical work. We use a lot of volunteers who just show up and help. We have one guy who flies in from Michigan. And I have always associated myself with caring men with skills.

"I usually have two or three (trailers) going at a time. They'll all be used somewhere."

Freeman says his work would be more difficult without the help of the Albany Exchange Club, which allows Freeman to use the fairgrounds out buildings as shelter to construct the trailers.

"It takes between 60 and 90 days to get a trailer ready to go," Freeman said. "We aren't a car lot, we have no inventory, but we'll do what we can."

Freeman also does reconstruction work on family homes which have been damaged in disasters.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Freeman and his volunteers had 47 projects in progress in four different states. They spent nine months assisting in the recovery effort.

"When you meet someone who has seen their world destroyed, it's best not to say anything to them," Freeman said. "Just pull up a cinder block, sit down and listen to them. Just listen. Eventually they'll open up and tell you what they need."

It's the little things we take for granted every day that are important to disaster victims -- plus promises kept.

"I remember telling a man in Venice, Louisiana, once that we'd be back to check on him after a few days," Freeman said. "He looked like he didn't believe me. When we saw him again a couple of days later, he looked surprised and said, 'You really did come back.'

"He looked like he was going to cry. That gave us all a good feeling."

After nearly 30 years in disaster recovery, that means everything to Charles Freeman.