Mormon Helping Hands assists with flood relief

Published September 4, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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Mormon Helping Hands volunteer Nathan Wood, right, a Brigham Young University-Idaho student from Batesville, and Rocko Woods of Mountain View place belongings on the street.

— When floodwaters began damaging southeastern Louisiana homes Aug. 13, leaving many properties and streets in disarray, Arkansas volunteers were on the scene within two weeks to help.

Mormon Helping Hands, a community-service program through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent thousands of volunteers to provide flood relief to Louisiana families on Aug. 27 and 28 and Sept. 3 and 4. About 500 Arkansans volunteered with the organization, with about 125 being from the church’s Searcy Arkansas Stake. The floods claimed at least 11 lives and damaged thousands of homes, according to reports from The Washington Post.

“Mormon Helping Hands is our church’s way of responding to disaster,” said volunteer Renee Carr of Fox. “We’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and it’s very organized. We’re able to recruit our volunteers quickly and get to the site pretty quickly. A lot of times, we’ll be the first volunteers there.”

Arkansas volunteers camped out on the grounds of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Baker, Louisiana, and during their first weekend of providing flood relief, they completed about 1,400 work orders in cities such as Baton Rouge, Zachary and Baker.

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers helped remove damaged wallboard, appliances and more from homes. Volunteers from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas also assisted in the effort.

Carr said that even though floodwaters had receded when volunteers arrived, the damage was noticeable.

“It was just really heart-wrenching to see the streets all lined, just stacked 10 feet high sometimes, with things — all the belongings that have just been pulled out of the homes, just ruined, just piled alongside the street,” Carr said. “It was just so compelling to think how quickly they lost their possessions.”

While in Louisiana, volunteer Esther Whitney of Jacksonville, who helped in August, slept in a van with her daughter while two of her sons slept in a tent on the church grounds.

Whitney said she spent her workday tearing out damaged wallboard, floorboards, bathroom tiles and kitchen cupboards in four homes.

“When we all get together and work to help, we can make a difference,” she said. “If everyone just relied on paid people, it would be hard to get everything done. My mom used to always say, ‘Many hands make light work.’”

Carr said Mormon Helping Hands also assisted in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in Arkansas after tornadoes struck Mayflower and Vilonia. Whitney also assisted in the tornado-relief efforts.

Carr said Louisiana natives and residents were appreciative of the help of Mormon Helping Hands volunteers.

“They seemed to have just remarkable attitudes and seemed to be resilient people,” she said. “When we did arrive, there was a sense of hopelessness as they looked at what had to be done in their homes. Most of them were surprised that that amount of work could be done that quickly. There’s so much more to do.”

Whitney said that anyone who plans to participate in relief efforts should be prepared for hard work and long hours.

“It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work, and I think the people we helped were grateful and appreciative,” she said. “Like anything in life, you get out what you put into it.”

Mormon Helping Hands makes it easy for volunteers to join relief efforts, she added.

“I think the organization is awesome because I think a lot of people want to help but don’t know how,” Whitney said. “So I think it’s awesome when there’s an organization that’s prepared and organized and leads the way to make it possible for people to go and help.”

Carr said putting oneself in another person’s shoes makes community service easier.

“I think it’s always good to put ourselves in that kind of situation and have that compassion and try to understand their situation,” she said. “It sure makes you want to help when you put it in that perspective.”

Staff writer Syd Hayman can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or shayman@arkansasonline.com.