Hurricane Ian volunteer disaster relief efforts conclude with thousands of hours of volunteer labor

In a downed tree, Church volunteers find a blossoming rose — ‘Truly, a tender mercy given to these good people from Heavenly Father to let them know He loves and is aware of them’

Thousands of volunteers have spent the last six weeks on the ground in Florida helping clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Ian.

The hurricane made landfall on Sept. 28. Within two days, members of local stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were on the ground helping clean up. The disaster relief efforts organized by the Church have now concluded with the following:

  • 10,740 volunteers from 61 stakes throughout the southern United States
  • 213,415 volunteer hours
  • 5,905 completed work orders
  • 10 semi-truck loads of relief supplies
  • 6 semi-truck loads of food
  • 20,000 calls answered on the Crisis Cleanup volunteer hotline 
  • 6 weeks on the ground

Hurricane Ian survivor Elizabeth Harlan spoke for others when she expressed her gratitude for the service. 

“I will never forget this exceptional group of men and women who gave of their time and labor so selflessly in order to relieve my property of the worst of the effects of the hurricane and in so doing to ease my burden,” she said. “Their service is a blessing, and they’ve paid true tribute to Jesus Christ by serving others in His image.”

Mason Tedrow carries tree debris in Cape Coral, Florida, as he helps clean up after Hurricane Ian on Oct. 23, 2022. | Vanessa Tedrow, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Volunteers travel far to serve and lift burdens

Members of the Church from around Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and as far away as Utah traveled to the most affected areas of Florida to check into command centers and receive their work orders. 

As R. Cameron Cowart and other members of the Savannah Georgia Stake met homeowners, they shared their concern for them. After offering the residents a hygiene kit and box of food, they worked hand-in-hand with them to clean up their properties.

“One couple we helped were so happy for our help that prior to leaving, the woman of the home asked if she could say a prayer with all of us. It was one of the most genuine heartfelt prayers I have ever heard,” Cowart said. 

“She expressed immense gratitude to God for sending us to her home, ‘God’s servants in the yellow shirts’, and prayed that we would be able to continue on doing His work helping others.”

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attend a briefing at the Cape Coral Command Center in Florida before getting work orders for Hurricane Ian relief on Oct. 8, 2022. | Jared Weggeland, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Another volunteer from the same stake, Skyler Fuller, 16, said they would drive up to a house and the front looked fine. But when they went to the backyard, there were huge trees down everywhere that needed to be cut up and removed.

“I came home sleep deprived, sore, covered in scratches, and smelly, but I would completely do it again,” Skyler said. “We were able to make a big difference. And that difference meant a lot to one family, and I’m so happy to be a part of that.”

Members of the Montgomery Alabama Stake drove more than eight hours to run the command center over organized relief efforts in Venice, Florida. Stake President Jared D. McLaughlin said enough volunteers went that they were able to staff the command center, distribute tools and supplies to over 800 field workers, and send out three of their own teams of field workers. 

“We feel very blessed by these opportunities to serve our neighbors. When Jesus Christ was alive, He helped people with their worst problems. We know that if He were here today, He would be in disaster areas healing the sick and feeding the hungry. It’s an honor to be a small part of His work,” President McLaughlin said.

Youth and young adults from the Johns Lake Ward shovel debris from Hurricane Ian on Chokoloskee Island in Everglades City, Florida, on Oct. 8, 2022. Groups of volunteers from 61 stakes around the southern U.S. helped clean up after Hurricane Ian during October and November. | Tricia Seguine, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Two members of his stake, Reginald and Dena Brett, saw how the south Florida residents were overwhelmed by the debris and damage caused by the hurricane’s wind and rain. Most had no power, gas or safe water for a time after the storm.

“When you hear the deep gratitude and relief in the voice of someone who has lost everything as you hug them in the front yard of a destroyed home, your heart melts for them,” Dena Brett said. “I couldn’t get over how much love I felt from the people we helped. It was worth far more to me than I sacrificed to go help them. Love is like that, it encircles the giver and the receiver.”

Hope in a blossoming rose

Members of the Church worked side by side with other congregations and faiths. Bishop Gregory O. Callahan in the Davenport Ward, Orlando Florida West Stake shared a story from their service in Port Charlotte.

When they arrived at Living Waters Lutheran Church, they saw huge damage to a memorial remembrance garden of members who had passed on. The garden meant a lot to the congregation, including a good-sized tree that overhung part of the memorial but had blown over and was unsalvageable. They hoped to save a round part of the trunk as a memento.

Bishop Callahan said in the middle of the memorial was an embedded picture of a blossoming rose — the Luther Rose, which has deep meaning to the Lutheran Church. As the volunteers cleaned up the property and removed the memorial tree, their service took a special turn.

The image of a blossoming rose appears on the cross section of a tree removed from a memorial garden at the Living Waters Lutheran Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, on Oct. 16, 2022. | NataLee Callahan, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“When we removed a section of the trunk to provide as a memento from the original garden, the rings at the center of the trunk looked unmistakably like a blossoming rose,” he said. “Truly, a tender mercy given to these good people from Heavenly Father to let them know He loves and is aware of them.”

The Latter-day Saint volunteers presented the pastor with the garden memento, and several members of the Lutheran congregation gasped when they saw the rose in the center. 

“The Spirit touched several hearts as tears and hugs were exchanged from members of both congregations,” Bishop Callahan said.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in yellow Helping Hands shirts present a section of a tree with a blossoming rose in the center to the pastor and members of Living Waters Lutheran Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, on Oct. 16, 2022. | NataLee Callahan, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder M. Andrew Galt, an Area Seventy who serves on the North America Southeast Area Emergency Response Committee, said miracles happened to many people — both those who worked and those who were helped.

“Working on these efforts is true religion in bringing hope to those in need. Our members are tired, but faith has increased,” Elder Galt said.

Donations of food and supplies

The Church delivered 18 tons of food and supplies to the Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program in southern Florida to ease suffering from Hurricane Ian. The program services 34 different nonprofit organizations in Sarasota and Manatee Counties in Florida.

Elder Matthew S. Holland, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the North America Southeast Area presidency, met with leaders of the organization during his visit of the area on Oct. 15-16.

When another truck with hurricane relief donations arrived at the Church’s Naples Command Center, people weren’t sure what to do because they couldn’t find a fork lift operator.

But Whitney Egbert, a member of the Buena Vista Young Single Adult Ward, Orlando Florida West Stake, had returned to pick up additional work orders just as the truck arrived — and she is a certified forklift operator.

Her work unloading the truck took a task that would have required several hours of labor down to a few minutes. It felt like a small miracle to those helping that day.

Whitney Egbert of the Orlando Florida West Stake helps unload a truck of hurricane relief donations in Naples, Florida, on Oct. 8, 2022. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped volunteer throughout October and November 2022 after Hurricane Ian. | Natalie Rodriguez, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Victor P. Patrick, an Area Seventy, added how the Church members’ service feels like a small sacrifice compared to what their neighbors have suffered as they lost so much as a result of Hurricane Ian.

“Seeing the light of renewed hope and heartfelt appreciation in so many eyes is its own reward. These disaster response efforts — by ourselves and so many others — reflect the Savior’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves,” he said.

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