This article has been updated to include the number of stakes involved.
Helping Hands volunteers have spent the last two weekends cleaning up after July’s devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky, clearing debris, shoveling mud, mucking out homes, moving furniture, preparing meals and filling many other assigned tasks.
More than 1,000 people from 30 stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints showed up to help each weekend, coming from central and western Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia.
At last report, about 2,800 volunteers have completed more than 27,000 hours of work.
Lexington Kentucky Stake President Glen M. Krebs told local TV station WYMT on Aug. 20: “We’re working all day today, and we’ll work half a day tomorrow, go back to our homes, and another crew of the same size will be back next Friday, work all day Saturday and half a day Sunday.”
The Church members and volunteers brought their own tools and camped in tents in the area, said Columbus Ohio North Stake President Gary C. Mangelson.
“Most of the supplies and most everything that the individuals are using, they’re bringing on their own, and they’re really here to work,” he told the TV station. “They’re going to be working all day today on Saturday and through Sunday as well.”
Stories from the volunteers
Barry Spurlock, a member of the Lexington Kentucky Stake, saw all the preparation and organization that went into the two weekends of heavy labor.
He was inspired as workers came back to the command center to report their efforts and what was completed.
“I saw people coming back in covered from head to toe in flood mud from mucking out from under a house and seeking another assignment to go back out and work some more,” Spurlock said. “I saw women covered in dirt from cutting up trees and visibly tired, yet smiling and laughing and ready to go back out and do more.
“We had people come back in tears amazed at the devastation they had seen and wondering and asking ‘What more can I do?’ This in my mind was service at its best.”
Members of the Crestwood Kentucky Stake were assigned to a crew to help at a home in Whitesburg.
When flash flooding surrounded the home in July, the family of four had to climb up a ladder from the back porch and scramble across the fence to higher ground. The water flooded the home and pushed two cars and a trailer into a culvert.
Team leader Thomas Hatton said: “The realization that a person can see 19 years of their life’s work destroyed in a matter of hours was really tough. We grabbed our shovels and got to work right away.”
Jeff Parsons from the Lexington Kentucky Stake was grateful for all the volunteers who, with little notice, gave their time, energy and talents to help others.
“The hand of the Lord guided the teams to their projects,” Parsons said. “Throughout the process, the Lord provided us with the right assignments, the right tools and the right amount of strength and energy to aid others in their unique situations.”
He was struck by how dire the situation is and how desperately help is needed. He noted the ongoing need for more assistance, which is likely to continue for months or years.
“The sheer amount of damage is hard to describe, particularly among poorer individuals who already had little in the way of resources.” Parsons said.
Grateful for the support
Flood survivor Mary Sue Stacy in Dwarf, Kentucky, wrote of her gratitude for Helping Hands volunteers from Akron, Ohio, who went to her home.
“They cleaned up all the debris and destruction in my yard and parking area,” she said. “This wonderful group of people have given me inspiration to start again. My daughter and I are so very grateful for the kindness Helping Hands has shown us.”
Bishop Kent R. Dingus of the Martin Kentucky Ward told the TV station he was overwhelmed by the amount of support.
“I couldn’t believe it when I pulled up to see all these people,” he said. “It just brings tears to your eyes, and we just need to do those things to help others.”
Truckloads of food and supplies for eastern Kentucky
The Church sent five semi-truck loads of food and supplies within a week after the flooding. Latter-day Saint volunteers joined with local firefighters and members of the Kentucky National Guard to unload the trucks and begin the massive cleanup efforts on Aug. 2, reported ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
The deliveries include more than 85,000 bottles of water, more than 3,600 five-gallon plastic buckets of cleaning supplies, food for more than 10,500 meals and 600 pounds of clothing.
Keith Parsons, first counselor in the Martin Ward bishopric, said: “This is a huge deal for the people here. The cleaning buckets have everything you need to clean out a house. With prior floods in the area, we’ve handed them out before, and people have been asking ‘Where are the buckets?’”
The Martin Ward building has been a hub for volunteers and first responders as well as the Floyd County Community Center. Missionaries have been helping there to serve the community.
Huntington West Virginia Stake President Jamie Wolfe said members of the Church mourn with those that have been impacted by the floods.
“We strive to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ and keep his commandment to love our neighbors” (Matthew 22:39), he said. “With this in mind, we will work with those in the affected communities to do what we can to provide supplies and support to help in the recovery.”