How Latter-day Saint Helping Hands are serving Hurricane Ida victims in Louisiana

Before Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana on Aug. 29, Rev. Drew Sutton, leader of the 600-member First United Methodist Church in Hammond, Louisiana, decided to relocate his young family to Baton Rouge.

Before he went to bed that night around 10:30 p.m., they still had power and he wondered if the worst was over. When he checked Facebook around 4 a.m., however, “I just saw people posting everywhere like this is the worst night of our lives,” Rev. Sutton recalled to Church Newsroom.

Hurricane Ida blasted ashore the Louisiana coast with sustained winds up to 150 mph — downing trees, crushing homes and causing power outages for more than a million people. 

Rev. Sutton, however, was one of many Louisiana residents who were served by thousands of Latter-day Saint volunteers in yellow shirts over the weekend.

Volunteers brought in chain saws, rakes and track loaders to begin clearing the grounds of his church. Joining with their Methodist friends, many hands made quick work.

“The way people are showing up and responding, knowing the need is great, it’s been phenomenal … seeing that level of commitment just reflects the life of the Church and the belief that God is in the midst of this storm, no matter how bad it has gotten and how bad it looks,” said Rev. Sutton.

Helping Hands volunteers work alongside others to remove debris caused by Hurricane Ida at the First United Methodist Church in Hammond, Louisiana, on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.
Helping Hands volunteers work alongside others to remove debris caused by Hurricane Ida at the First United Methodist Church in Hammond, Louisiana, on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Resources came from throughout the region. Many volunteers have experienced hurricanes themselves in recent years, such as Jake Smith of Pensacola, Florida.

“It’s every year we’re going somewhere,” said Smith, a volunteer leader of a regional group of congregations. “Whether it’s Hurricane Sally [which] hit Florida last year, we dealt with that in Pensacola. They came and helped us. We had these command centers in Pensacola, and then we come here.”

Regional Church leaders anticipate the need each year somewhere along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Crews have set up three command centers near the southern Louisiana coast in Hammond, Gonzales and Slidell. More than 2,200 volunteers were expected this past weekend, with volunteers needed for the next five or six weekends.

Emergency relief supplies, including water and food commodities from Church storehouses in the southeastern United States, have been delivered to Church meetinghouses for distribution to persons in the disaster area.

This first weekend, there are plenty of work orders to address tree limbs, branches and stumps uprooted from the strong winds. However, a lack of electricity and hot temperatures made conditions for workers and victims challenging.

Josh and Sierra Kennedy live in Houma, Louisiana, with their two girls. Sierra and the girls evacuated to her mother’s home, and Josh was away working, recalling what he saw upon his return.

“You walk in, and the smell is really what you [notice] first and just how bad it smelled. When we [left] Houston [to return to our home last night], that was the last time we had a hot meal. Somebody came into [Sierra’s] mom’s apartment complex, and they had spaghetti and nachos, red beans and rice, and cold drinks. It’s just rough,” Josh Kennedy said.

Helping Hands volunteers in Hammond, Louisiana, hold separate small sacrament services Sept. 5, 2021, due to COVID-19 prior to cleaning up homes and neighborhoods caused by Hurricane Ida.
Helping Hands volunteers in Hammond, Louisiana, hold separate small sacrament services Sept. 5, 2021, due to COVID-19 prior to cleaning up homes and neighborhoods caused by Hurricane Ida. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

With a collapsed carport, a caved-in roof and ruined furniture, many of their belongings were moved to their front lawn, thanks to the aid of Helping Hands volunteers from the Beaumont, Texas, area.

“Driving through the devastation is really hard to see how many people are affected,” said Elder Ty Coates, a missionary serving in Texas. “Back home [in Smithfield, Utah], when disasters happen, it’s usually to the one and so the whole community can just gather around them. Whereas here it’s widespread and it’s kind of awesome because everybody helps everybody, even though they’re all hurting.”

Church member homes were impacted, some with significant flooding. Fortunately no loss of life has been reported among Church members, but the cleanup is just beginning.

All missionaries were relocated from the storm’s path in advance of the storm, and many are now working as part of the cleanup.

Quinn Millington, a regional Church leader, brought heavy equipment from Montgomery, Alabama. “It’s overwhelming when [residents] come back and they look at their house, and there’s trees down and there’s no power and there’s standing water, and they’re wondering what has happened to my home. It’s nice that we can walk in and eliminate at least one or two of their concerns and offer some love acting like the Savior.”