Members and missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided assistance this weekend to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Local Church leaders are planning significant disaster relief efforts, organized on both a local and regional level in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.
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.
Mormon Helping Hands
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.