When the first quick response feeding unit (QRU) was acquired by Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief five years ago, director Scottie Stice knew it was something special. All he needed was a pair of volunteers to pioneer the effort.
He found that team in Ronnie and Connie Roark. The couple has since been joined by others, and the SBTC QRU fleet has grown to four units.
The QRU — whether in trailer or vehicle form — is a small, highly mobile food truck that can be rapidly deployed in emergency situations. Mass feeding units require considerable setup and staff, but the QRU can be in place preparing meals within hours with only two volunteers.
“The key to the QRU’s success is flexibility,” Stice said.
SBTC QRUs deployed more times in 2022 than similar units from all state Baptist DR teams combined, Stice noted, adding, “We look for opportunities to serve [using the QRUs] and ask, ‘Why not?’”
The QRU can be a rapid response godsend. It has been called on to prepare 50 meals per day for first responders battling wildfires in West Texas one moment, and the next, to churn out its maximum of 700 meals per day for hurricane survivors in Southeast Texas.
Called to feed others
The Roarks, who live southeast of San Antonio and attend Salem Sayers Baptist Church, became involved with SBTC Disaster Relief in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
“We knew we wanted to do something to help but did not know how we could. We visited with our preacher, Brother Bret Edwards, and he told us about SBTC DR,” Ronnie recalled. The Roarks attended an SBTC DR mass feeding training session the following week in San Antonio and signed on.
“The following Monday we were at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, cooking for our support volunteers, and we’ve been cooking since,” Connie said.
The couple, who met and married in Abilene in 1974, moved to the San Antonio area in 2015 to be near family, joining Salem Sayers the following year. Ronnie had retired from a 34-year career with an electrical power company and Connie — who formerly worked in banking — had operated a home-based business until 2006.
As they attended training in the wake of Harvey, they felt called to the feeding ministry.
While deployed at Champion Forest, they met Stice. Ronnie suggested adding a small supply trailer to alleviate the need for daily restocking trips for the large mass-feeding kitchen.
“Scottie told us about a new ministry he had been thinking of starting with a small team running a cooking trailer,” Connie recalled. “His problem was that he did not have a team to run the new QRU.”
“You do now,” the Roarks exclaimed.
And the rest is history.
In addition to the unit maintained by Salem Sayers Baptist, SBTC DR has two other food trailer QRUs: one in Pampa, maintained by the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association, and the newest addition at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jasper. Lake Athens Baptist Church operates a food truck donated by Houston’s First Baptist. This regional system makes quick deployment possible, more so than if the equipment was stored in a central warehouse.
A mobile refrigerated/freezer unit was also added in 2022 and has the capacity to carry food and supplies to prepare 3,000 meals. Ronnie noted, “This unit was used in our recent deployment to Fort Myers, Florida, and proved its value.” In Florida, the QRU — manned by the Roarks and other volunteers who relieved them — cranked out an average of 120 meals per day for 46 days to serve volunteers, first responders and survivors of Hurricane Ian last October.
No town ‘forgotten’
As for the Roarks’ most memorable deployments, the couple recalls being sent to the Rio Grande Valley in June 2019 to respond to flooding. As the pair were en route, the national relief agency that had contacted SBTC DR offices for assistance canceled the request.
“You’re on the road. Keep going. We’ll figure out where you will set up and what our mission will be while you’re driving,” Stice told the Roarks.
With a team also consisting of Pastor Edwards and his daughter, the Roarks drove to Raymondville and parked in a grocery store parking lot at the floodwater’s edge. As they waited, two women approached to inquire about the unit.
“It’s just what we need,” one of the women said. With permission, the team proceeded to First Methodist Raymondville, where the church operated a clinic, and within three hours were serving 300 hamburgers.
“We remained onsite for around five days,” Ronnie said. “When we left, our recovery teams set up at the church. Lesson learned? You may not know the plan, but God always does.”
City and county officials are almost always grateful for the work of the QRU and other DR units. The Roarks recalled deploying to the Lake Charles, Louisiana, area — specifically the hamlet of Lake Arthur — following Hurricane Delta in 2020. There they worked in support of the Texas Salvation Army.
The Lake Arthur mayor, police chief, fire chief and city manager assisted in the distribution of food. The mayor told the Roarks Lake Arthur was often the “forgotten town” when storms hit and that they appreciated the assistance. When the Roarks passed on the sentiments to Salvation Army coordinator Kathy Clark, relief crews worked with determination to ensure that the town was by no means forgotten.
“God’s message of hope was shared in this community,” Ronnie said. “Many felt the touch of God that week.”
Like the song made famous by Johnny Cash, the Roarks have “been everywhere.”
‘We go where the Lord directs’
“QRUs have been very active since their beginning in 2018. We have responded to hurricanes, structural fires, forest fires, tornadoes, floods, and mass shootings. Along with providing support during disasters, we also helped in feeding the homeless in Austin and later fed the volunteers supporting the Houston Food Bank while distributing supplies during COVID. Not only have we served across Texas, but also in New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida and Nebraska,” Ronnie said.
“Round wheels are on our QRUs so they can roll to wherever they’re needed to provide a hot meal and the hope of Jesus,” Stice said, adding, “Our volunteers energize the system. We go where the Lord directs.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Jane Rodgers and originally published by the Southern Baptist Texan.