Karen Smith was born and raised in Whitesburg so there was no doubt she was coming home to do some cooking. This time it was personal.
“I lived here, I’m from here, this is my hometown,” said the kitchen master of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief. “I’ve not slept good one night since this happened. I have family here and friends here.”
Cell phone service is sketchy since the flash floods swept through southeastern Kentucky last week and she hadn’t been able to reach some of her family members. But they learned that Smith was coming back to the mountains to serve in the Kentucky Disaster Relief kitchen that was being set up at First Baptist Church in Whitesburg. They were drawn to the church like people are drawn to the food from the KYDR ovens.
“Word spread I was here and they came to see me,” she said. “Lots of tears were shed and they were happy tears because they were all OK. Some of them had lost their homes and were living with mommas or kids.”
By the hundreds
Smith’s job over the next couple of weeks will be to serve up food to Disaster Relief volunteers for breakfast and lunch and then a massive dinner feed is offered to the public. They had nearly 500 on Tuesday night and more will be coming as word spreads. Smith is an expert at cooking for hundreds at a time. However, she said this one carries with it a lot of emotion because of it being home.
She said the famous 1957 flood in Whitesburg was the most historic, until now. Her home in Graveyard Holler during the 1957 flood was covered up except for the peak of her house. She was shown a photo of her old homestead as the flood waters began to build last week.
“I was here for the 1957 flood and that was horrendous,” she said. “This is way worse than the 1957 flood.”
Smith said flood waters are usually contained to one specific area but the scope of this one affecting five counties made it unmanageable. Although she knew Disaster Relief teams were getting formed, she was coming even if they didn’t. When Ron Crow, the KYDR director, said he was trying to decide between Hazard and Whitesburg to set up the kitchen operation, Smith said that she was going to Whitesburg. “He said, ‘I guess that’s where we will set up the kitchen then.’’’
FBC Whitesburg was also the church where Smith was baptized in 1960 when she was 7 years old. It wasn’t the same church building but the same church.
Smith commended the FBC Whitesburg members for their hard work and assistance as the KYDR team moved in to set up the kitchen operation.
She also bragged on Pastor Tony Brown for his hospitality, kindness and elbow grease. “Oh, he’s wonderful, so nice,” she said. “Their folks are cleaning like crazy and cleaning all around us.”
Smith said she’s glad to be serving because it’s a blessing to her people.
“I love everybody we work with all over the country, but this is completely different. It’s extra emotional when it’s your people.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Mark Maynard and originally published by Kentucky Today.