In recent news coverage of Church relief work in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, one TV news broadcaster said…“Of the relief forces descending on our flood-damaged city, it’s fair to say that none is bigger or more effective than the legions of volunteers bound by their Mormon faith.”
Another used these words…“They are skilled, they are organized and they are here to help others. I’ve covered disasters all over this country and learned that when it’s crunch time you can count on Mormons to step up in a big way and help their neighbors.”
June 24, 2015 was declared Mormon Helping Hands Day in the City of Houston due to the Church’s response to another community need.
So, what makes the work performed by church members through the Mormon Helping Hands program so effective? A key element is church member’s natural inclination to serve and help others plus a structure to keep it organized. With over 195 Mormon congregations in the Southeast Texas, and each providing many volunteers, there have been tens of thousands of individual church members providing service to flood victims.
With the advent of super Hurricane Harvey, all those elements came together to deliver a massive coordinated Church response by local members and many others traveling from Dallas, Austin and San Antonio Texas.
An example of how this organized approach functions is demonstrated by a work crew from the Katy Texas Stake serving in a west Houston neighborhood.
Katy Stake President Tim Morris noted, “It is a blessing to see the many miracles that are happening as hundreds from our congregations have gone out daily for weeks to help one person, one family at a time.”
Before members gather to go out and serve, hours of preparation had already taken place.
Darin Woolwine of the Cinco West ward explained that immediately after the flooding, Katy stake members identified about 200-300 homes needing work. Crosspoint Church also helped identify homes. Residents requesting assistance had already registered online using a non-denominational free open source computer platform for local agencies called CrisisCleanup.org and work orders had been prepared. Aaron Titus, Executive Director of CrisisCleanup.org said that calls for assistance had been coming in at a rate of 2,200 to 2,400 per day.
“Each crew will have from 10-30 members depending on the house and the needs. The work order tells what needs to be done,” Woolwine said. Because of CrisisCleanup, groups coming from out of town can use the system and choose projects that fit them even before they leave and then arrive prepared to tackle the job.
At the church building serving as the command center, crew chief Corey Zollinger from the Cinco West ward organizes a crew and chooses a project suited for his group. Once a project is chosen and a work order pulled, that team has to complete the work order. To avoid wasteful duplicate effort, other teams work on different work orders. He gathers supplies and equipment and they head out. This procedure is repeated in church building after church building across the city.
Soon crew chief Zollinger and his team arrived at the home of David Osborne whose family had been airlifted from the roof of their 2-story home when water overflowing the reservoir flooded the neighborhood. There was plenty for all to do as they began to remove cabinets and sheetrock. “The churches have been a massive help. You guys came and prayed for us. All that has been appreciated,” Osborne said.
Immediately after homes are flooded and the water recedes, a process called “mucking out” is necessary and is often performed by volunteers. The purpose is to remove everything from the home two feet above the high-water mark. This includes carpet, wood floors, sheetrock, insulation and furnishings. It is hard work and women, men and teens pitch in to get it done.
According to Tami Maloney, a Houston area public affairs director, “Homeowners expect to remediate for weeks but are relieved when our volunteers do it in a matter of hours.”
When finished, all that’s left below the removal line is bare concrete floors and wall studs. This process stops the decline of the flooded home, including rot and mold growth and allows residents to begin the rebuilding process.
At the end of the workday, Zollinger’s crew headed back to the church command center to return and report. Detailed notes are made in the CrisisCleanup database to indicate the work order was completed. The crew then gets another work order and repeats the process.
John Stansel of the Katy Stake was tasked with replenishing supplies. “After the crews go out we take inventory and see what we need for the next day or week. We need to make sure that people are safe so I make sure to replace masks, gloves and glasses. I fill out a form and then drive up to the welfare complex at Hafer Rd to pick them up,” he said.
Fred Lewis of the Cross Creek Ward shared that, “We aren’t just mucking out homes, we are caring for their spiritual and emotional well-being. During the flood, the Katy School Superintendent asked the teachers to go out and help in the community on their teacher-prep day. We had 72 teachers join us in fulfilling CrisisCleanup projects,” he said.
Russell Shurtz, 1st Counsellor in the Katy Stake Presidency said, “We have had over 1500 members serving over the past two weeks…strengthened by other churches and organizations like Katy Christian Ministries and individuals donating food and out bringing relief and support. It is a wonderful opportunity to come together as a community and put into practice the faith that we have.”