Helping Hands respond to tornado destruction in the midwestern U.S.

“Look for the helpers,” iconic children’s television host Fred Rogers once said. And Latter-day Saints across the Midwest United States are helping others right now while they themselves are dealing with damages and destruction from a series of tornadoes.

Church members, including the yellow-shirted Helping Hands volunteers, are working to clean up, repair and rebuild after dozens of tornadoes hit Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky last weekend.

“Our prayers are with all who are suffering from catastrophic loss due to the recent storm and devastating tornadoes. In checking on our Church members and missionaries, our hearts are full of gratitude that no lives were lost. Still, we are mindful that many friends and neighbors are grieving the loss of loved ones, and we mourn with them,” said Elder Jared W. Stone, Area Seventy in the North America Southeast Area.

Read more: Church members assess damage after tornadoes hit Midwest United States

Elder Stone said at least 50 homes belonging to members were damaged, and at least six were destroyed. Around 30 families were displaced from their residences, and 11 others lost their places of business. Some meetinghouses suffered minor damage.

Church members have been out helping their neighbors remove downed trees, patching damaged roofs, providing meals and opening their homes for places to stay. Local Church leaders are coordinating more efforts to offer help in the next few days and weeks. 

Construction equipment moved debris from the largely destroyed downtown in the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through the region, in Mayfield, Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.
Construction equipment moved debris from the largely destroyed downtown in the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through the region, in Mayfield, Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Credit: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

For example, Searcy Arkansas Stake President President David M. Lewis told the Church News about a large effort scheduled for this Saturday in many of the affected towns.

“Then we plan to mount a greater effort after that, because it won’t be over,” he said. 

He explained how the town of Trumann, Arkansas, has huge trees and wood-frame houses that were damaged significantly. First, the power companies have to go in and take care of fallen poles and lines, and then trees must be cleared from the roads — a process that can take several days. Then the people who live there can go in and start to assess the damage.

“This is tough right at Christmas time,” President Lewis said.

Supplies and equipment will be shipped to several communities this week to assist in the relief efforts. And over the coming days, Helping Hands disaster relief volunteers from the Church will be on the ground to help.

Helping Hands volunteers in their trademark yellow shirts and vests have served others since 1988 after emergencies and natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding. The services are performed at no cost. 

A child's toy car sits near damaged cars and homes Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Bowling Green, Ky. When a tornado touched down in Bowling Green in the middle of the night, its violence was centered on a friendly subdivision, where everyone waved at each other and giggling children spent afternoons tooling around on their bicycles on the sidewalks.
A child’s toy car sits near damaged cars and homes Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Bowling Green, Ky. When a tornado touched down in Bowling Green in the middle of the night, its violence was centered on a friendly subdivision, where everyone waved at each other and giggling children spent afternoons tooling around on their bicycles on the sidewalks. Credit: James Kenney, Associated Press

“The Southeastern United States has seen more than its fair share of storms this year. It changes our hearts when we serve, reignites our empathy and reminds us what is important,” said Mike Dohm, regional welfare and self-reliance manager in a news release. “With each disaster, our faith drives us to reach out into our communities and help where we can.”

Rick Long, area welfare and self-reliance manager, said it seems that when disaster strikes, the world pays attention but only for just a moment. Then Latter-day Saint Charities, the Church’s humanitarian arm, and the Helping Hands volunteers get to work.

“They answer calls to the crisis cleanup hotline and collaborate and coordinate with faith groups and charitable organizations to provide humanitarian relief. Donations of food boxes, clothing, water and cleaning kits to aid victims are being sent to affected communities, along with tools such as chainsaws, hand trucks, debris sleds and tarps, to assist Helping Hands volunteers in their disaster relief efforts,” Long said.

The news release explained that survivors needing assistance at their residence can call the crisis cleanup hotline at 1-800-451-1954. Crisis Cleanup is a collaborative disaster work order management platform used by many disaster relief organizations. All services are free. Volunteers from around the country donate time to answer calls from survivors and catalog work orders.

“Our brothers and sisters in Kentucky, Tennessee and surrounding states are bruised but not forever broken. The landscape of these states has been beaten down, but communities will rise from the depths of destruction through faith in God, hard work and a helping hand from friends near and far,” said Elder Stone. “All are anxious to serve and do as our Savior Jesus Christ taught — to bear one another’s burdens. We have the sacred opportunity to love our neighbor and be His helping hands here on Earth.”