Mormon Helping Hands Cleaning Up After Sandy
Within hours of Hurricane Sandy hitting landfall earlier this week Latter-day Saints were already assisting in clean up efforts.
Today the Church issued a press release detailing how members and missionaries will be providing further assistance this weekend to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Church leaders are planning significant clean up and relief efforts, organized on local and regional levels in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.
Earlier this week as Hurricane Sandy approached the Northeast United States President Kevin E. Calderwood of the church’s New York New York South Mission tried to alert parents of missionaries via email that their children were safe and fine. He and his wife also posted on their mission blog the following preparations they were taking to ensure safety before the storm:
The mission has an emergency plan in place and we have been planning and preparing for this specific hurricane for many days. I am writing to update you on those plan.Our plan is called Safe and Serve – Be Safe first and then go and Serve.SAFE: As of Sunday night, we have moved all 27 Sister missionaries into the mission home with our family. We have food and water a plenty and beds for everyone. We also have access to a generator if needed. Our 2 daughters are loving this. The sleepover of a lifetime.The subway and mass transit system closed down on Sunday night. Prior to its closing, we moved all Staten Island Elders into high elevation apartments in Brooklyn or Queens. We moved all other Elders living in low elevation apartments inland into high elevation apartments. Everyone is moved as of last night and we will all be in doors and safe to wait out the storm. Each missionary was instructed to purchase water and prepared foods for the apartments in case we lose power. In addition all apartments have first aid kits, emergency radios and cell phones. All cell phones will be charged continuously to prepare for a possible power outage.We have a cell phone tree using text messaging set up through our District and Zone Leaders. All companionships report in via the “tree”. We will have near real time updates on each missionary. My Assistants are bunking in the Mission Office where we have land lines and other supplies. The Mission Home and the Mission Office are set up as Command Centers. In addition, the local Priesthood leaders have set up an emergency hotline linked to google maps so we will know the location of anyone in need.SERVE: We all have our work clothes and we will move out into the community after the storm to help with the clean up. This will give us a chance to work side by side with the local New Yorkers. Our missionaries know how to work and this service will be a great opportunity to represent the Savior and give back to our fellowman. We are here to save souls either physically or spiritually.Most importantly, we know the the Lord loves our missionaries. We love them so much as well. He will keep them in the hollow of His hand and provide ways for us to serve. Sister Calderwood and I are honored to being serving along side some of the best missionaries to ever serve. Thank you for sending your sons and daughters to serve here.
Church leaders have set up a command post in a Church building in New Jersey, and are in the process of setting up smaller command centers at up to six other buildings in the region. Organizers at the command post will help distribute food, water and other emergency supplies to those in need. Many supplies were sent earlier from Church storehouses in New York and New Jersey, and two semi-trailers of supplies arrived today from the Church’s central storehouse in Salt Lake City. The Church is providing locally-purchased chain saws, generators, pumps, ready-to-eat food, water and other necessities to help in the relief effort. Additional food boxes, hygiene kits and cleaning kits will be sent from nearby bishops’ storehouses for those in need.
Members and missionaries will help conduct assessments on food, water and cleanup needs in their neighborhoods this weekend, and work to fill those needs where possible. In the hardest-hit areas, such as Patterson, New Jersey and New York City’s Lynbrook District, congregations will hold abbreviated worship services on Sunday to allow members to help with cleanup efforts that include tearing out flood-damaged carpet and sheetrock and treating for mold.
Church members and missionaries have already worked to assess and meet needs in communities affected by the storm, and have specific projects in place in many areas.
In Pennsylvania, Nockamixon Township was hit especially hard by the storm, with debris and power outages throughout the town. Bucks County Emergency Management Coordinator Harry Crohe requested Church assistance for the township, and within 12 hours, over 60 Church missionaries and members from Philadelphia and Reading arrived, chain saws in hand to help clear fallen trees.
Tom McFarlane, Emergency Management Coordinator of Nockamixon Township, was thankful for the help. “They were absolutely wonderful,” he said. “I couldn’t believe all the work they did. It was like watching a bunch of termites just eating up the wood.”
The Church will help to distribute 1,500 meals in the township this weekend and also staff a Red Cross shelter in Allentown.
Brett Duersch, a local leader in the Reading area, said Church members enjoyed being able to serve others. “We did an awful lot of good, but I really think the members got more out of it,” he said. “We were the winners here.”
In Brooklyn, local Church leader Jeff Nelson helped organize a group to clean up a flooded Catholic church in the Red Hook neighborhood after Catholic Charities asked for help. The Red Hook church distributes food and other necessities of life to the needy on a daily basis. It was crucial to get the church back into operation to continue that role in a heightened time of need.
Nelson was surprised at how quickly the work was completed. “When we arrived, there was so much debris, we thought it would take a month,” he said. “But a group of people showed up, and before we knew it, half the basement was cleared. It’s just amazing what people can do when they pull together to help.”
On Saturday, volunteers will remove debris from another flooded Catholic church in Coney Island. The efforts of the two churches were being coordinated through a partnership with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On Long Island, Church missionaries and members went out in the Valley Stream area to find neighbors who needed help.
The Cohn family had cleared as much debris as they could out of their flooded basement when a group of members and missionaries arrived.
“After the storm passed, a whole group of people came down the block — 40, maybe 50, people — asking if they could help,” said Jack Cohn. “I have a heart condition, so for me it was a godsend. They took all of the garbage out of the basement to the street, stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to physically do.”
Missionaries from the Morristown New Jersey Mission formed a “reverse” bucket brigade to bail out water from Essie Lawrence’s basement in Valley Stream. “I don’t know what I would’ve done,” she said. “My basement was full of water. They are miracle workers.”
Another Valley Stream resident, Ruth Klein, said she was touched by her interaction with young members of the Church. “It was awe-inspiring; it gave me hope for the future,” she said. “These young people were so delicious and centered. They came with muscle I didn’t have, but it was their warmth and smiles that I needed. I learned from them that stuff isn’t important, but a smile is — they were sunshine.”
In East Brunswick, members and missionaries will work to clear fallen trees and haul away debris.
“We’ll be cutting up sheetrock, spraying down where water hit so we can get rid of mold, and taking damaged items out of homes,” said local leader Gregory J. Stokes. “We’re also out asking people if we can be of service and assessing needs.”
Church missionaries and members will be at work not only this weekend, but for weeks to come.
“We’ll probably spend the next five to eight weeks and weekends out cleaning stuff up and helping people with these problems,” Stokes said.
In Manchester, Connecticut, Mormons are teaming up with the Connecticut Food Bank, Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and IKEA-TV to collect food, warm coats, and personal care items for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Latter-day Saints in Oakton, Virginia and in Washington, DC are gathering warm coats and winter clothes to send to victims in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Extensive Damage Reported
Hurricane Sandy is described as one of the largest storms to ever hit the United States, with more than 60 million people being impacted from North Carolina to Maine. The impacted area has experienced extensive power outages, business and school closures, and widespread transportation disruptions throughout 12 states. Thousands of homes and businesses have experienced severe flood and wind damage. There has also been extreme damage to roads, the power grid and other infrastructure.
Hundreds of Church members are reporting flood and wind damage to their homes, and minor flooding and wind damage is being reported at several Church meetinghouses. Local Church leaders continue to assess the situation, and local members and missionaries are already assisting in affected neighborhoods, helping with cleanup efforts, including debris removal and minor home repairs.
I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be sitting in the old Tabernacle on Temple Square during the October 1856 General Conference. It was during that Conference that President Brigham Young had learned of the sorrowful state of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies, a group of feeble Mormon Pioneers, who were at that moment starving and freezing to death in the mountains hundreds of miles from Salt Lake City. I have no doubt in my mind that the feelings in that congregation were electric as Brother Brigham rose and said these words:
‘I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak [at this Conference]. … It is this. … Many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be, “to get them here.” …
“ ‘That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people. …
“ ‘I shall call upon the Bishops this day. I shall not wait until tomorrow, nor until the next day, for 60 good mule teams and 12 or 15 wagons. I do not want to send oxen. I want good horses and mules. They are in this Territory, and we must have them. Also 12 tons of flour and 40 good teamsters, besides those that drive the teams. …
“ ‘I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains.’ ”
As any student of Church history knows, Brother Brigham’s call to give relief was well heeded. That afternoon, food, bedding, and clothing in great quantities were assembled by Latter-day Saints. The next morning horses were shod and wagons were repaired and loaded, and the following morning 16 mule teams left the safety of Salt Lake and headed eastward into ice covered mountains. By the end of October there were 250 teams on the road to the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies to provide food, clothing, and assistance in traveling the final leg of their journey to Utah.
Little has changed since 1856 though. Today Latter-day Saints still respond to similar calls to serve in times of need and crisis.
Today’s press release from the Church ended with these words:
During emergencies such as this one, whether caused by tornadoes, fires, floods, earthquakes or something else, local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often provide service to those in need.
The Church organizes volunteers via its Mormon Helping Hands program, which brings together members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their neighbors to provide community service. These volunteers, in their trademark yellow shirts, help people whose lives have been affected by natural disasters and other emergencies. Mormon Helping Hands volunteers also partner with government and nonprofit organizations to support and improve the communities where they live.
The Helping Hands program reflects the desire of Mormons to follow the example of Jesus Christ by serving others. The effort receives resources from Church humanitarian services, and the projects are coordinated by local Church leaders.
Although not all Latter-day Saints can go rip up carpets and chop down trees in the northeast this weekend, many will still be contributing via their tithing slips to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid fund. If you would like to donate you can do so by clicking here.
With a death toll in the United States of over 100 now and an estimated rebuilding cost of $60 Billion there will undoubtedly be ways in which we can all put forth something to serve those who have been effected by this storm.
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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’s lawn was 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.