Submitted by Clairissa Cooper
When Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, the storm and subsequent destruction were at the forefront of people’s minds and charitable outreach was prevalent.
The second-most destructive and intense Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana left people in a wake of pain and loss, which can linger for weeks, months, and sometimes years.
Hundreds of church members from Flower Mound, Lewisville and surrounding areas took weekend shifts over the past six weeks and donated hundreds of hours to assist Hurricane Ida victims with clean-up efforts.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked alongside and partnered with the Crisis Cleanup Hotline as part of Helping Hands to identify the needs of those who were affected by catastrophic flooding, downed trees, and homes destroyed by 150 mph sustained winds.
Once they arrived at the command center in Gonzales, LA, groups of 8 to 12 were given an assigned location and items such as chain saws, sleds, tarps for roofs, and cleaning supplies. The destruction was so widespread and needs so vast, some traveled an additional two hours to assist in more rural areas.
Each volunteer was met with a similar scene– streets lined with debris, furniture, household items, tree limbs, and even personal keepsakes.
“As we drove past home after home, each one being severely damaged, I thought about how the scope of work is overwhelming,” said Cesar Castaneda of Highland Village.
“We assisted a homeowner named Terry. She was a widow and felt overwhelmed, not sure how she was going to repair her home by herself. She told me she was beginning to lose hope that she could manage this situation. She was praying to get the help she needed to rebuild. Soon after her prayer, I called her to let her know we were coming the next day. I could tell from our phone call that she had been waiting for us and was excited to get the help she so badly needed.”
Many homes like Terry’s lost their roof from severe winds or trees that had fallen through them. Rain, humidity, and loss of electricity left homes with little left to salvage. Mold and moisture required everything to be removed from the home, including drywall and sheetrock.
“I’ve never seen it where not a shingle was left on a roof,” said Lisa Bird of Double Oak. Bird grew up in southwest Louisiana near Lake Charles and is no stranger to hurricane clean-up.
“People experienced three to four feet of water in their homes and, with leaking roofs, nothing could be saved, not even in their attics. It all had to be removed.”
When volunteers weren’t removing items from inside the homes, they were cutting down and cleaning up tree limbs, branches, and uprooted stumps. Hot and humid work conditions proved challenging and volunteers were asked to arrive at the sites completely self-sufficient. With all of the hotels and available housing in the area booked, volunteers brought tents to sleep in at nearby parks.
“Despite the heat and humidity, we were able to work beyond our capacity. It’s a blessing when we’re able to do things like that for each other,” said David Philips of Lewisville, who worked with his daughter, Wren, a freshman from Lewisville High School.
“These people were going about their lives, working and cleaning up when they had time. They just can’t do it all. Something so daunting and hanging over their head was being lifted. We were able to help them. Not just do something for them, but work with them and fill in that gap where they weren’t able.”
One group was joined by a woman named Ann, who flew in from Utah to help. She was a victim of Hurricane Harvey when she lived in Houston and wanted to give back since strangers helped in her time of need.
“[These people] gave much more to us than they received,” said Castaneda. “This was the most physically demanding work I have done in a long while, but worth every minute. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve.”
Jack Lybbert, 14 of Flower Mound, assisted in the cleanup of an elderly man’s property and said, “The tears in this older man’s eyes touched me. I will never forget that moment and how I felt, to know we were able to help and bring joy to this family.”
More than 2,200 volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex arrived each weekend to assist in the cleanup efforts. Helping Hands is a function of Latter-day Saint Charities, which serves as the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its purpose is to relieve suffering, foster self-reliance, and provide service opportunities. For more information, visit latterdaysaintcharities.org