As aftershocks continue to jolt Southern California in the wake of a major earthquake, local Church leaders and members are reaching out to meet the physical and emotional needs of others - LDS and non-LDS.
Since the temblor struck the Los Angeles, Calif., area Jan. 17, Latter-day Saints have been setting up tent cities, volunteering at emergency shelters, providing food and other relief supplies, and calming frayed nerves.Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy and president of the North America West Area credits the success of such efforts to the "wonderful local people and Church leaders. They are organized; they did what needed to be done."
He especially credited the leadership of Elder Tad Callister, a regional representative who is in charge of coordinating Church relief efforts in the Los Angeles Basin in the event of a disaster; Pres. Jose Gergardo Lombardo of the San Fernando California (Spanish) Stake, which was severely affected by the earthquake; and Pres. Bradley Foster of the California Arcadia Mission.
Elder Groberg visited stricken areas Jan. 21-23. For the first two days, he was accompanied by his counselors, Elders F. Burton Howard and Jeffrey R. Holland, also of the Seventy. After Elder Groberg returned to Salt Lake City, he spoke with the Church News about how the Saints are doing and about relief efforts.
During his three-day visit to Southern California, Elder Groberg held several meetings with local Church leaders, including regional representatives, mission presidents, stake presidents and physical facilities representatives. He also inspected damaged Church property, including the Los Angeles Temple, which received minor damage (please see Jan. 22 Church News), and visited with members displaced from their homes.
In reporting on his visit, Elder Groberg expressed gratitude for the success of a new emergency system recently instituted in Southern California. He explained that after the 1991 Los Angeles riots, it became apparent to the area presidency that one regional representative needed to be responsible for the Los Angeles Basin during a crisis; one for Orange County; and another for the San Diego area.
"The system worked perfectly," he noted.
Elder Groberg was especially impressed with a tent city set up on a baseball field adjacent to the Van Nuys California Stake center. Up to 400 people, mainly from the San Fernando stake but including a small percentage who are not Church members, stayed at one time in the tent city during the first week after the disaster.
Arriving in time on Jan. 22 to see breakfast served at the tent city, Elder Groberg noted stake leaders there helping. "The stake presidency, the high council and the bishops were there mingling with the people, holding their babies and encouraging them," he said.
Helping to provide food, sleeping bags and other relief supplies at the tent city was the bishops storehouse in nearby Colton, Calif., Elder Groberg said. Surrounding stakes collected blankets and coats.
In addition, young women and young men from the Glendale 4th Ward, Glendale California Stake, brought candy and balloons for children staying at the camp. The youth also organized games for the children.
In speaking about the camp, Elder Groberg commended the tenants for the conditions of the camp. "The three things I was impressed with was the organization, the cleanliness and the good spirit," he said. "That's what the Church ought to be - orderly, clean and with lots of love."
Elder Groberg said he found the same atmosphere at a smaller tent city set up on the grounds of the Reseda Ward meetinghouse in the Los Angeles Canoga Park California Stake.
During his meetings with the local leaders and with members, Elder Groberg's main emphasis was to encourage them. "I really encouraged them to not give up the ship. The Church is going to move forward in California. This is not necessarily God's judgment on members. This is the way nature is."
He also encouraged leaders to seek the help of LDS Social Services in helping members deal with the emotional trauma of the disaster. "What a significant thing the emotional trauma is," he said. "It's more real than people think. People are shaken; people wanted to stay outside.
"Just that process of being displaced is an emotional shock. You can imagine the Saints' feelings when they saw their homes burn in Nauvoo. It's the same thing, except it's not mobs, it's an earthquake."
He added that at one of the LDS meetinghouses, "several of the ladies couldn't keep from crying."
To help strengthen these members, Elder Groberg held testimony meetings at several locations. "I took the concluding time and told those attending that God loved them; He was not abandoning them. They would be stronger and more empathetic with others because of this. We then had a prayer together. As I left, many said, `That's what we needed.' "
In speaking of relief efforts, Elder Groberg commended the missionaries of the Arcadia, Los Angeles and Ventura missions. He explained that missionaries served not only at the tent cities, but also at several other emergency centers in the stricken areas. One of the main services these missionaries provided, said Church leaders, was translation for many Spanish-speaking quake victims.
"We've developed a close relationship with the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other emergency organizations," Elder Groberg said, and added that a bond has also developed between members and missionaries that "will have lasting permanent effects."
Many lasting effects are developing as relief efforts continue among members throughout the Los Angeles and surrounding areas. In a telephone interview with the Church News, Elder Callister said Camarillo California Stake leaders asked members to provide food for a Catholic relief agency in Ventura. "In just a day's time, members filled three kitchens in three LDS meetinghouses with food to make available for distribution."
He added that the La Verne California Stake provided relief supplies to the Salvation Army and provided meals in a Los Angeles park to quake victims, of whom about 90 percent were non-LDS.
Elder Callister related, "Every day we send 30 people to Red Cross centers in the affected areas, and then Red Cross officials send them where they are needed."
Barbara Myler, director of public affairs for the San Fernando region, said youth of the Valencia California Stake went door to door in their neighborhoods and collected "within a matter of hours" 450 blankets, 540 coats and 600 sweaters and sweatshirts for distribution to quake victims.
"We've received calls from members outside our area offering relief," she added. She said that the Bakersfield California, Bakersfield California East and Bakersfield California South stakes have provided some 15 tons of relief supplies.
Clareen Hays, regional director of public affairs for Bakersfield, about 95 miles north of San Fernando, said, "We organized our three stakes and asked members to bring goods to the `Behold Your Little Ones' [satellite broadcast Jan. 23 (See story on broadcast on page 3)T. Our trucks were overflowing."
The members delivered the supplies to the Santa Clarita United Methodist Church, which was being used as a distribution center. Sister Hays said the Rev. Preston Price was impressed by "the amount of stuff that had come from the saints in Bakersfield."
In addition, about 100 members from Bakersfield East stake have been volunteering at Red Cross shelters in Santa Clarita Valley.
Sister Myler said Red Cross officials have told her: "We're really glad you are here. We've worked with Mormons before, and we're glad when you show up because we know you will do a good job."
Not only have members been organizing in groups to help, but also many have helped on their own, said Elder Callister. "Who can count the thousands of random acts of kindness that far exceed the organized ones?" he asked.
Sister Myler spoke of Dale and Jana Christiansen of the Valencia 2nd Ward who were out of town when the earthquake struck. The couple had extensive emergency supplies in their home, such as food, water, alternative heat and radios. After hearing of the quake, "They called their neighbors and said, `Go into our home, and use anything you need,' " Sister Myler related. "Apparently, the neighbors were sustained by the Christiansen's preparation."
Ron Hazard, multi-region director of public affairs for the San Bernadino/Ontario region, is a disaster expert who works with government teams. He was called into duty by a disaster medical assistance team and helped organize medical relief after the earthquake.
Relief efforts most likely will be ongoing considering that the severity of the earthquake, which registered 6.6 on the Richter scale, killed at least 54 and caused about $15 billion in damages. The number of LDS deaths has risen from two to three, Elder Callister said.
In addition, he noted, the quake displaced 500-600 members, most of whom have returned home or have gone to relatives and friends' homes. The quake destroyed 22 members' homes, which includes houses and trailers.
Concerning damage to Church buildings, Church officials updated reports. In addition to several LDS facilities that sustained major damage, the Cochran Ward meetinghouse in the Simi Valley California Stake was also severely damaged structurally. Many other Church facilities received minor damage.