Ten days after a severe storm system sent 34 tornadoes through the southeast United States, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mobilized to help their neighbors clean up all the damage.
On Jan. 12, tornadoes were recorded starting in Alabama and continuing into Georgia. At least nine people were killed, with homes, cars and trees destroyed across multiple counties.
Separate disaster cleanup efforts in Selma, Alabama, and Griffin, Georgia, on Jan. 21 and 22 resulted in 1,154 volunteers from nine stakes cleaning up fallen trees, limbs and debris on multiple properties, unloading and boxing food donations from the Church, and ministering to people in need.
Efforts in Alabama
Gathering with the help of a disaster relief command center in Prattville, 854 volunteers from seven stakes in Alabama mobilized to serve the city of Selma. Many volunteers traveled long distances and camped at the YMCA of Prattville.
Tornadoes with winds between 113 and 157 miles per hour had hit the area. Montgomery Alabama Stake President Jared D. McLaughlin said the volunteers’ hearts were heavy as they witnessed the destruction.
“We are just trying to do everything we can, and spread faith to those who need it most,” President McLaughlin said. “We serve because we are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. When others are in need, we can provide some hope and relief.”
His first counselor, President Gregory R. Spears, spoke about his feelings while working on the cleanup.
“We felt the love of the Savior while serving those affected by the storm. We hope they will feel hope in seeing those around them working to lift them out of this very difficult time,” President Spears said.
President Stephen McKay NeSmith Jr., second counselor, also shared his thoughts.
“We want to provide service and really reach out and minister to those that have been affected. We feel very strongly that it is what Jesus Christ would be doing and we try to follow Him.”
In all, the volunteers put in 11,709 hours and completed 381 work orders at homes and houses of worship by clearing debris, removing fallen trees and putting tarps over damaged roofs.
The Church sent 40,000 pounds of food to the Selma Area Food Bank to help those in need of assistance after the storms. Volunteers packed 244 food boxes from an additional food donation from the Church for work crews to deliver to families in the field. Leftover supplies were donated to the Volunteer Resource Center in Prattville.
Ten more pallets of assembled food boxes, personal hygiene products and baby care supplies from the Church will arrive in Montgomery this week.
Efforts in Georgia
More than 300 volunteers in the Fayetteville and Newnan Georgia stakes responded to more than 14 locations throughout the city of Griffin.
Most of their work involved picking up trees, limbs and debris. They also helped with the removal of a large tree that had fallen in the cemetery of the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Griffin.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by the recent tornadoes in our community,” said Fayetteville Georgia Stake President Robert G. Richards. “We are also grateful we could offer a hand of service and provide help where and when it is needed most.”
David Nielsen, a member of the Brooks Ward in the Fayetteville Stake, said his heart always goes out to those who are dealing with having their homes or their yards destroyed.
“I’m glad that I can share some of my time to help if it means less for them to worry about. I feel sadness, peace, joy and tired all at the same time, and I try to imagine what it would be like to be someone in that situation and having people come and help,” Nielsen said. “I feel the Savior’s love for them. [I] never regret sacrificing my time to help with disaster cleanup.”
Young single adults like Craig Sultan helped with the removal of the tree at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church.
“To recognize that I was an answer to someone’s prayer made me feel like I was on the Lord’s errand,” he said. “My heart was full and I made friends that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t offer service today.”
Mike Donaldson of the Fayetteville Ward said many hands made for light work.
“It was amazing that we were all able to get to work so quickly,” he said. “We all worked in unison and harmony. By noon, we had completed the cleanup. It was a great testimony to the selflessness of all of those involved.”