Over 4,000 volunteers wearing bright yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” T-shirts flooded into Louisiana and Mississippi from throughout the Gulf Coast to help clean up communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. John Anderson, Emergency Operations Center director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, “It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get seeing thousands of people heed the call to help with such generosity and enthusiasm.”
Anderson estimates over 73,000 hours have been donated so far by volunteers. That’s in addition to the 140 truckloads of commodities and hygiene items the Church provided to support food pantries and supplement limited community resources. It translates into 5.6 million pounds of supplies, or 2,800 tons.
However, the story of the rescue effort is not truly about these numbers, but about people joining hands, not as volunteers and victims, but as neighbors and now friends. Stories like:
The elderly Hungarian couple found resting by the side of the road in front of their house. Their home and yard were littered with seven uprooted trees, which the couple had been trying to remove using a Boy Scout hatchet. Church volunteers stopped and offered help, and within five hours had cleared out the debris. The couple said, “We have not had such help since we were liberated by the Americans after World War II.”
Members of the Methodist Church provided their parking lot for Mormon volunteers to camp in and brought 55 quarts of soup to them the next day in appreciation for the help they received in cleaning up their building.
Police, hospital and schoolteachers also benefited from volunteer services. One schoolteacher who raises bulldogs was amazed that her dogs never barked at volunteers repairing her home. “That’s because they were angels,” she exclaimed.
“When I hear these stories I am humbled by the tremendous service that is being rendered between people of all faiths,” Anderson said. “We are all children of God, and that’s what matters.”
The backbreaking work was not for the faint of heart. The totally self-sustained volunteers cleared massive trees, tore out drywall, scrubbed down walls and provided a shoulder to lean on. One volunteer said, “I’ve never been so tired in all my life, yet I’ve never felt better.”
Immediately following this weekend’s effort, Church leaders began assessing what supplies needed replenishing at the 12 volunteer staging areas and where the greatest need was for the next wave of volunteers. This is a process that will be repeated over and over again as the disaster area shrinks and in anticipation of major cleanup in New Orleans.
Church leaders at the Emergency Operations Center in Slidell, Louisiana, plan to sustain a volunteer force of 4,000 for the next three to eight weekends, depending on the need. Their work is organized and methodical. Assessing the needs of people in a wide area of devastation, creating work orders for individual homes in communities, sending volunteers to do the work and following up to make sure it is complete is an exhausting but necessary process — one that will be completed by helping hands and willing hearts.
Church Response to Date
• 4,000 volunteers assisted in cleanup efforts last
weekend and will continue to work for the next three to eight
depending on need.
• Over 73,000 hours have been donated so far by volunteers.
• 140 shipments of food, water, clothing, fuel, generators, tents, tarps and other emergency supplies have been made to
support local Church-operated food pantries and supplement limited community resources. That translates into 5.6
million pounds of supplies, or 2,800 tons.
• Church-operated food pantries, called bishops’ storehouses, throughout the affected areas are providing food to those in
need from inventories pre-positioned prior to the hurricane.
• Supplies and volunteer assistance are being provided for evacuees in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas,
Arizona, Utah and Idaho.
• Temporary emergency shelters are operating in local meetinghouses to care for displaced individuals and families.
• Trained social workers from LDS Family Services from Salt Lake City are providing trauma and grief counseling.
• The Church is working with relief agencies and government officials to provide the kinds of assistance that will be most