Mormons and the Hurricane Sandy Storm Cleanup
Today President Obama flew into New Jersey as Commander in Chief to symbolically offer his hand of help to those struggling in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. As the devastation seemed to grow before our eyes as we read articles online and watched the news, the death toll from the storm also seemed to rise, bringing a somber feeling across our country.
Amidst the utter destruction from the Carolinas to Connecticut, and across our nation, I think we all bowed our heads for a moment to say a prayer for those in need.
As life continued on as just another Wednesday, and a rather uneventful Halloween for myself and much of the world, there were over 500 Mormon Missionaries pounding the pavement from the New York New York South, New York New York North, and New Jersey Morristown missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today wasn’t a day of tracting though. Today was a day of hard physical labor cleaning up from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction.
President Kevin E. Calderwood of the church’s New York New York South Mission told the Deseret News,
“We’ve been in basements, on roofs, in yards cutting down trees, hauling things out of people’s houses, pulling out carpet and doing whatever people need us to do to help.”
The missionaries have been gathering in groups of six at members’ devastated homes, and then fanning out to assist in cleaning up first responders’ homes, and as well as anyone else whom they could assist. Many members of the Church, who lost everything or are still unable to return to their homes, are staying at two of the Church’s meetinghouses in Lynbrook and Freeport, New York. There are generators there to give electricity, and these buildings are quickly becoming hubs for community clean up efforts.
“This isn’t about just helping our members,” Calderwood stressed. “We’re here to help anyone and everyone. We’re here to serve. And right now, this is the service that is needed.”
The Church also released a press release today outlining much of the efforts that are being done. I share this part of the release,
Elder Swede Storey, a missionary from Odgen, Utah, said it is hard to see people he’s come to love in such a difficult situation, but he’s grateful to be able to help. “I’ve grown to love this city so much, so it’s been tough to see the areas where I’ve served damaged and the families I know with so much damage.”
Elder Josh Munday, from Kent, England, another missionary in New York, was also thankful to be able to serve others during the disaster. “This is the calling of our church, to help those who are in need,” he said. “It’s been so sad to see everyone with such hardships in their lives right now. We’ll be praying for the others who are in need.”
President Calderwood said missionaries will continue to provide whatever help they can in the coming days and weeks. “There’s more work here to do than anyone has capacity to do, but we’ll just take it one house at a time,” he said.
Missionaries, Church members and other volunteers will spend the next few days out in neighborhoods, helping meet immediate needs and assessing damage, then will make plans to return to help with larger, long-term projects. Some damage assessment and work must wait until roads are safe, downed power lines are cleared and flooded areas open up. As soon as first responders determine it is safe, local Church leaders will work with government and relief agencies to help organize assistance in those areas.
Relief efforts are being coordinated on both a local and regional level. Church leader Elder Jeffery E. Olson is helping coordinate efforts by Church members in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and said local leaders are eager to organize all the assistance they can. “Everyone expressed a willingness to go where they needed to go and help anyone who needed help,” he said. “In fact, they were willing to come as far away as Buffalo if we needed them.”
The Church has equipment and supplies that are being distributed as needs are determined. The Church has pre-positioned supplies in warehouses in Indianapolis, Washington D.C., New York and New Jersey. Those supplies include generators, food, water, blankets, hygiene kits, tarps, chain saws, shovels and wheelbarrows.
Elder Olson said Church members in the area were fairly well prepared for the storm, and have been able to reach out to those who need help. “We’ve been teaching our members to be at a level of preparedness so that they are also able to help their neighbors and community recover after a disaster,” he said.
Just as was done with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and many other major storms in recent years, the Church “pre-positioned” supplies in various areas and will now distribute them as directed by area and local priesthood leadership.
Having been a part of numerous Church disaster relief efforts, I can personally testify that there is perhaps no more beautiful part of our faith than when you get to see it work so beautifully under the direction of the Spirit for the temporal and spiritual welfare of others on such a large scale.
President Calderwood also shared these moving words with the Deseret News,
“I’m glad our missionaries are young and strong. If you haven’t tried to haul a soaking wet carpet out of a basement with two feet of water in it, you have no idea how filthy and back-breaking it can be. But the missionaries seem to be loving it. They are here to serve. They enjoy it. And the people have been really appreciative of what we are doing. There is so much work to be done here – this isn’t something that’s going to be finished in a week or two, and we’ll stay at it as long as we are needed. We are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he tells us to love our neighbors.”
“And right now, our neighbors need help.”
In the coming days there is little doubt that we will hear more heartbreaking stories of loved ones, homes, and neighborhoods lost. In the coming weeks and months there will be much to clean up both physically and emotionally. But today was a good start.
Following are images of the destruction which have come forth today via various news outlets. Seeing that a picture is worth a thousand words, I will let the true magnitude of the devastation speak for itself.
If you’ve stumbled upon this site and you’re not a Mormon please click here to learn more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what we believe.
If you would like to assist in the clean up efforts in a real and physical way and you’re in the New England area, ask a local Mormon how you can. They’ll have you shoveling sand out of basements and chopping down trees before you know it. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina I remember a particularly touching weekend during which over 10,000 Mormons converged on southern Mississippi and Louisiana to help in clean up efforts. Some came from as far away as Washington State, on their own dime, to help be their brother’s keeper. And just last year I witnessed my own small chapel used as a campground for 400+ Latter-day Saints who came in to help clean up my community after the deadly tornadoes of 27 April 2011 here in Alabama. So seriously, if you want to help out in the efforts, grab a Mormon! We love making new friends and cleaning up after disasters.