After tornadoes touched down in Iowa and Nebraska May 22-23, Terry Dillon's stake president asked him to visit the devastated town of Bradgate, Iowa, and find out if the Church could lend assistance.
He arrived just hours into clean-up efforts to find not only service opportunities, but also Church members already helping.
"There was quite a volunteer response to this, both inside and outside the Church," said Brother Dillon of the Ames Iowa Stake. "We had members there the next morning after the tornado."
No members or missionaries were hurt during the storms, which caused two deaths, injured more than 50 people, and damaged the homes of two LDS families in Nebraska. In Iowa, a tornado destroyed 75 percent of the small town of Bradgate, near Ft. Dodge. In Nebraska, tornadoes destroyed most of the small community of Hallam.
Brother Dillon said when he first visited Bradgate in the hours after the tornado hit, he asked the county emergency disaster coordinator what supplies — food clothing, bedding, generators, or tents — the Church could donate. He found that relief crews needed plywood.
Brother Dillon relayed the request to stake leaders and, three hours later, enough plywood arrived in Bradgate to patch damaged homes, protecting them from the heavy rain that hit the town in the days following the tornado. Additional supplies, including food and soap, arrived from the Kansas City bishop's storehouse May 25.
The real service, however, said Brother Dillon, came from the dozens of members who helped.
"It is not a very large town," he said. "I would say every building in town suffered some damage."
Bishop Mick Smith of the Lincoln 4th Ward, Lincoln Nebraska Stake, said after the storms in Nebraska, members there also immediately began service efforts.
Only two member families in the affected area needed assistance, so the majority of the 90 members helping went out in the community in a large force, giving more than 400 hours of service, he said.
When volunteers were allowed into Hallam May 25, 18 Church members spent the day sorting through debris. The Church also donated $25,000 to the local Red Cross for emergency relief. "The destruction was beyond anything I have seen before," said Bishop Smith.
One community member living outside Holland, Neb., stood by his truck in the hours after the storm. "He was in shock," said Bishop Smith. "There is not a lot you can do when someone has lost everything . . . but we tried to help the people have some semblance of order in their life after facing such destruction."
In Gurnee, Ill., members also responded quickly to the needs of others.
When the flooding Des Plaines River forced Joe Mitchell of the Gurnee 1st Ward to begin sandbagging his home May 23, he called on his home teacher and priesthood leaders for assistance. Within hours, 75 Church members had gathered in his neighborhood, filling sandbags, emptying basements and lining home foundations with tarps and sandbags.
Gurnee 1st Ward Relief Society President Bev Monson arranged with local grocery stores to donate food to the effort that eventually included several hundred volunteers assisting in different parts of town.
As a result, several homes in the town were protected from flooding. As the basement of another house flooded, ward members moved the furniture to upper levels — something the homeowner, a single mother, could not have done by herself.
"Without a good home teacher and the assistance of the ward we probably would have had major losses," said Brother Mitchell. "I called for help and it came, not only for me, but for my neighbors as well. Ward members really pulled together to contribute to the rescue effort and my neighbors were both surprised and thankful."
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