The extra mile

Evacuee family finds friends, new start in Idaho Falls

"You can't help everybody, but you can help somebody," was the simple philosophy an Idaho businessman took in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

And the few "somebodys" Frank VanderSloot helped won't soon forget him — especially since four of them are living in his home.

Brother Vander Sloot of the Osgood Ward, Idaho Falls Idaho Eagle Rock Stake, was on business in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Sept. 5 when reports of the devastation and suffering in Louisiana was hitting the news. Traveling with a colleague and his wife, Brother VanderSloot said they looked at one another and said, "Let's go see if we can help."

So he and David and Seana Brown bought two grocery store carts of food and water, loaded it on their private jet and headed to New Orleans. With no airport operating there, they ended up landing in Baton Rouge, where they were soon at a shelter operating out of the stake center adjacent the Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple.

After talking to a bishop and distributing their food and water, they thought about the six empty seats on their jet. "I walked up to one table and there was this man," Brother VanderSloot related. The man was Terrence Crawford, who was an evacuee with his wife, Trulisha, and their two children, along with other family members. "He was a social worker, and through his social work, he had dealt with LDS Social Services."

Before the storm, the social worker had a job, a home and a good life, he told Brother VanderSloot. He just wanted a chance to start again. The other family members wanted to go to San Diego, Calif., to stay with relatives. Brother VanderSloot bought them bus tickets for the journey. Then he turned to the Crawford family and said, "Do you want to go back with me to Idaho?"

Soon the little family was seated in the private jet for lift off. But there was one more stop to make. LDS emergency services had alerted Brother VanderSloot to a couple in nearby Slidell who needed to get to Utah to join their grandson. Ed and Joyce Steffan, 76 and 75 years old, respectively, had lost everything — and very nearly their lives. Brother VanderSloot and a family member of the Steffans related how the couple, who are not LDS, had been preparing to evacuate when trees collapsed on their home and yard, blocking their escape. As the water rose, they climbed to their attic with their two Pomeranian dogs where they lived on Coca-Cola for four days. With no help arriving, Ed Steffan swam through infested waters for help. Finally, a boat came to their rescue and they were taken to a shelter and, eventually, through the intervention of their Utah relatives, to the bishops' storehouse in Slidell.

The couple soon joined the little entourage on the VanderSloot jet and headed west. They are now staying with a grandson's family in Utah, where a family member reported that Ed Steffan said, "That's quite an organization you have," referring to the Church.

The Crawford family has been staying in Idaho Falls with Brother VanderSloot and his wife, Belinda, and their children. Since their arrival on Sept. 6, they have become known in the southeastern Idaho community. "The TV stations came down and interviewed them and now (Terrence) has got eight or nine leads on social work jobs," Brother VanderSloot added.

"It's been very fulfilling to us to do something for somebody," he continued. "They've just become members of our family."

And Terrence Crawford has told Brother VanderSloot his help was an answer to prayer. The son of a pastor in Louisiana, he said his father raised him on the law of tithing as found in Malachi 3. When learning of the help Latter-day Saints have offered his son's family, he told his son, "I told you, always pay your tithing."

Familiar counsel in the VanderSloot home.

E-mail to: [email protected]

Sorry, no more articles available