“The Mormon Helping Hands program 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…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 service-- the projects are coordinated by local Church leaders.”
Hurricane Irene A few weeks ago the Eastern coast was hit by Hurricane Irene. For safety precautions, forty missionaries living in low-lying areas were evacuated to higher ground. Luckily, except for fallen power lines, trees and power outages, the New York South Mission did not suffer much structural damage.
In New Jersey things were different. The storms from Hurricane Irene flooded many areas. Then Tropical Storm Lee hit five or six days later and flooded the same areas again. Many of the homes were inundated with up to 6-8 feet of water. Some of the homes had only their roofs visible.
Help. The NY South Mission received a request for help. So on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, September 14-16, we bused our mission to New Jersey which is about an hour and a half away (a third of the mission went each day). On the weekend, members from the wards and branches were bused over to New Jersey. On Sunday, church services throughout the mission were shortened to a ½ hour Sacrament meeting. The members were instructed to meet at the church wearing their flood clean up clothes. They participated in the sacrament and then boarded the buses to New Jersey.
Clean up (“Mucking Out”). The clean up project was coordinated through Salt Lake City. In May the Church called a volunteer couple from Utah to oversee disaster relief projects throughout the United States. They work from their home in St. George. When there is an emergency or disaster, they leave their home and travel to the site to help coordinate the project (since May, they have only been home one week).
Those who are in need of help are put on a list. A truck full of equipment and supplies is sent from Salt Lake, including yellow Helping Hands t-shirts for every participant. Before beginning any work, the neighborhoods are canvassed and information gathered. Teams of ten are organized and assigned to individual cars (our missionaries “hooked up” with the missionaries from New Jersey). Instructions are given(no monetary donations accepted--no proselyting, please). Everyone is supplied with a lunch and a “sled” full of clean up supplies—shovels, brooms, crow bars, etc. is sent along with each team. The “sleds” are used to haul the debris out of the houses.
Clean up entailed stripping many home of the walls, floors and ceilings and leaving only the studs. Because of the water, the walls had the consistency of wet chalk. A serious problem comes from the quick onset of black mold, which even after the cleanup makes some homes uninhabitable. When the project is completed, a relief bucket from the Church is left at the home with a day or two supply of food and a few supplies.
Missionary Reactions. "It was a great experience--for me it changed my attitude of the meaning of service and gratitude. Before, I never knew what service really meant. It completely changed my thinking.”
"It continues to amaze me to see the depth of organization the Church and the capability it has to quickly and efficiently reach out to others in need, not only in the United States, but throughout the world (Japan, Brazil, Africa, etc. etc.)"
"The elderly man that we helped had cancer that had spread “like crazy’ to his liver and other organs. Six months before he had lost his wife. His insurance informed him that his damage would not be covered. In spite of this he was smiling the whole time and didn’t complain once. When we finished, he pulled out a wooden box full of tie clips and cuff links and gave them to all the missionaries (they were all were all wearing them at our next meeting). "