Latter-day Saints have pitched in to help their neighbors in the wake of the deadliest tornadoes to hit the southern United States in nearly 40 years. According to the Associated Press, the storms have killed more than 340, injured hundreds more and destroyed or damaged several thousand homes.
In Smithville, Mississippi, and in Hackleburg and Phil Campbell, Alabama, members of the Church wearing the familiar yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” T-shirts and vests went door-to-door this week to assess the needs of neighbors in their community.
“We have people coming from all over the South to help out,” said local Church leader Gary Pettus. Helping Hands volunteers provided “Assessment and Work Order” forms to homeowners that pinpointed exactly what needed to be repaired, cleaned up or hauled away. “It is important to know that work provided will be free and these representatives will not be asking for any type of donations,” added Pettus.
A Hackleburg woman was grateful to have her fallen trees cut up and hauled away and jokingly described the enthusiasm of her helpers: "Y'all look like a bunch of squirrels running around with chain saws. You're everywhere!"
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In Bartow County, 40 miles north of Atlanta, Mormon volunteers worked side-by-side with members of a local Baptist congregation to clear fallen trees and clean up.
“We know that selfless service is an important characteristic of followers of Christ. Mormon Helping Hands helps us give of our time and talents to aid those in need, and there certainly is an immediate need,” said Pettus.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, Latter-day Saints from more than a dozen congregations were at the bishops’ storehouse loading thousands of pounds of food, water, roofing kits, tarps, generators, chain saws, cleaning kits and hygiene kits containing combs, washcloths, soap and toothpaste to send to areas of disaster in southern Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
Many of the volunteers who came to help were young people like Connor King from Lilburn, Georgia. “What’s cool about this is that we are serving people we have never met before. … The Church is set up in a way that we can do something like this and it will get to those who need it,” he said.
The service project produced 2,000 boxes of supplies that were shipped to affected areas. "All of us watched as the tornadoes tore through so many of our towns and neighbors’ towns,” said local Church leader David Trust. “As Christians, we mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. This opportunity to do something — anything — is a blessing to us. We are grateful to have an outlet to serve our friends and neighbors around the South."
Volunteer members filled 2,000 food boxes at the central bishops’ storehouse in Salt Lake City. Five semi trucks from Salt Lake, joined by another in Denver, are en route to more than a dozen areas in five states hit by tornadoes. Four truckloads from Atlanta and Indianapolis are also heading to those areas. The truckloads contain more than 200,000 pounds of supplies.
On Saturday, 7 May 2011, service to victims in devastated areas continues. Mormon volunteers numbering approximately 2,000 will be working with other religious and charitable organizations to further assist their communities with food distribution, repairs and cleanup in five states.
Local leaders continue to monitor the situation to determine how to best support relief efforts and assist those in need.