Thousands of volunteers have spent the past six weeks on the ground in Florida to help clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Ian.
The hurricane made landfall on September 28. In two days, members of local stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were on the ground to help clean up. Disaster relief efforts organized by the Church have now concluded with the following:
- 10,740 volunteers from 61 stakes in the southern United States
- 213,415 volunteer hours
- 5,905 work orders completed
- 10 semi-trailer loads of relief supplies
- 6 semi-trailer loads of food
- 20,000 calls answered on the Crisis Cleanup volunteer hotline
- 6 weeks in the field
Hurricane Ian survivor Elizabeth Harlan spoke on behalf of others when she expressed her gratitude for the service.
“I will never forget this exceptional group of men and women who so selflessly gave of their time and labor to relieve my property of the worst effects of the hurricane and, in doing so, to alleviate my burden,” she said. “Their service is a blessing, and they have paid true homage to Jesus Christ by serving others in His image.”
Volunteers travel far to serve and ease burdens
Church members from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and as far away as Utah traveled to the hardest-hit areas of Florida to s register at command centers and receive their work orders.
When R. Cameron Cowart and other members of the Savannah, Georgia Stake met with homeowners, they shared their concern about them. After offering residents a hygiene kit and a box of food, they worked hand-in-hand with them to clean up their properties.
“One couple we helped were so happy with our help that before leaving, the woman of the house asked if she could say a prayer with all of us. It was one of the most heartfelt prayers I have ever heard,” Cowart said.
“She expressed immense gratitude to God for sending us, ‘God’s servants in yellow shirts,’ to her home and prayed that we could continue to do her work in helping others.”
Another volunteer from the same stake, Skyler Fuller, 16, said they would drive to a house and the frontage looked good. But when they went to the backyard, there were huge trees everywhere that needed to be cut down and removed.
“I came home sleep deprived, sore, scratched and smelly, but I would completely do it again,” Skyler said. “We were able to make a big difference. And that difference meant a lot to a family, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.
Members of the Montgomery Alabama Stake drove more than eight hours to operate the command center during staged relief efforts in Venice, Florida. Stake President Jared D. McLaughlin said there were enough volunteers to be able to staff the command center, distribute tools and supplies to more than 800 field workers, and help ‘send three of their own teams of workers into the field.
“We feel very blessed with these opportunities to serve our neighbors. When Jesus Christ was alive, he helped people with their worst problems. We know that if he were here today he would be in disaster areas, healing the sick and feeding the hungry. It is an honor to be a small part of his work,” said President McLaughlin.
Two members of his stake, Reginald and Dena Brett, witnessed how residents of South Florida were overwhelmed by debris and damage from the wind and rain from the hurricane. Most had no electricity, gas or clean water for some time after the storm.
“When you hear the deep gratitude and relief in the voice of someone who has lost everything as you hug them in the front yard of a destroyed home, your heart melts for them,” Dena Brett said. “I couldn’t get over the love I felt from the people we helped. It was worth far more to me than what I sacrificed to help them. Love is like that, it encircles the one who gives and the one who receives.
Hope in a blooming rose
Church members worked side by side with other congregations and denominations. Bishop Gregory O. Callahan of Davenport Ward, Orlando, Florida Stake shared a story of their service in Port Charlotte.
When they arrived at Living Waters Lutheran Church, they saw extensive damage to a memorial garden memorializing deceased members. The garden meant a lot to the congregation, including a sizable tree that overhung part of the memorial but had been knocked down and was unrecoverable. They hoped to keep a round part of the chest as a souvenir.
Bishop Callahan said that in the middle of the memorial was an inlaid image of a blooming rose – Luther’s rose, which has deep meaning for the Lutheran Church. As volunteers cleaned up the property and removed the memorial tree, their service took on a special twist.
“When we removed a section of the trunk to provide a souvenir from the original garden, the rings in the center of the trunk definitely looked like a blooming rose,” he said. “Truly, a tender mercy given to these good people from our heavenly Father to let them know that he loves them and knows them.”
Latter-day Saint volunteers presented the pastor with the memory of the garden, and several members of the Lutheran congregation gasped when they saw the rose in the center.
“The Spirit touched many hearts as tears and hugs were exchanged between members of both congregations,” Bishop Callahan said.
Mr. Andrew Galt, an Area Seventy who serves on the North America Southeast Area Emergency Response Committee, said miracles have happened to many people, both to those who worked and to those who were helped.
“Working on these efforts is true religion to bring hope to those in need. Our members are weary, but faith has increased,” Elder Galt said.
Food and supply donations
The Church delivered 18 tons of food and supplies to Mayors Feed the Hungry Program in South Florida to relieve the suffering of Hurricane Ian. The program serves 34 different nonprofit organizations in Sarasota and Manatee counties in Florida.
Matthew S.HollandGeneral Authority Seventy and First Counselor in the North America Southeast Area Presidency met with leaders of the organization during his visit to the Area October 15–16.
When another truck with hurricane relief donations arrived at the Church’s command center in Naples, people didn’t know what to do because they couldn’t find a forklift operator.
But Whitney Egbert, a member of the Buena Vista Young Single Adult Ward, Orlando Florida West Stake, had returned to pick up additional work orders just as the truck arrived — and she’s a certified forklift operator.
His job of unloading the truck took a task that would have required several hours of work up to a few minutes. It felt like a small miracle for those helping out that day.
Victor P. Patrick, an Area Seventy, added how serving Church members feels like a small sacrifice compared to what their neighbors have suffered as they lost so much as a result of the hurricane Ian.
“To see the light of renewed hope and heartfelt appreciation in so many eyes is its own reward. These disaster response efforts – by ourselves and so many others – reflect the call of the Savior to love our neighbors as ourselves,” he said.