Helping Hands volunteers serve community

The Mormon Helping Hands stayed in the Bear Cave before traveling to work.

Stacey Smith

The Mormon Helping Hands stayed in the Bear Cave before traveling to work.

Erika Cook, Writer

As the community was burdened with the destruction of the recent hurricane, others came from hours away to put their hands together and make a difference when Southeast Texas needed help the most.

While the storm grew, the community was in fight or flight mode. Some began to become overwhelmed by the destruction while others were ready to help all they could. Many citizens were devastated by the loss of belongings and in need of any help they could get, but lacked faith in receiving that help because of the devastation across the community.

Mormon Helping hands is an organization under The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that performs acts of service. The organization’s main goal during this trying time was to help provide the necessities of life and destruction and reconstruction of citizens’ houses.

“Right before the flood, a man named Elder Jay B. Jones from the Dallas, Fort Worth area who had came down and presided over a conference here had left just before the hurricane hit,” local LDS church leader Daniel Harris said in a recent video documenting the storm. “Right after the flood, he sent me a text that said, ‘I heard you got hit pretty hard. I wanted to let you know we have a lot of men and we will be there as soon as we can.’ He sent 3,000 men and women to the Beaumont, Vidor, and Orange area.”

Volunteers traveled from Utah, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, many other distant cities in Texas and more, to give up their comforts of showers, beds, and good meals to spend weekend after weekend mucking out houses.

“We began our trip to Vidor on Friday night,” Plano student and Mormon Helping Hands volunteer Justin White said. “We stopped and stayed in a hotel over night and then woke up about 6:00 the next morning and drove two more hours. When we arrived early Saturday morning, we drove straight to our first house. We got to know the homeowner really well and she told us exactly what to do. She left soon after because she was emotionally broken with her loss of possessions. We worked all day at her house. I was on clean-up duty so I swept up all of the drywall and cleaned the floor to the best of my ability. The second day, we worked at a man’s house a couple houses down. He was super shy but we got to know him really well. He had really bad black mold and water was still in the walls. We removed about a foot of dry-wall that allowed his house to air out.”

These Helping Hand volunteers had to take shelter in the most unusual places. They brought cots and/or air mattresses to stay in places like Vidor High School, the Beaumont Civic Center and even in the LCM gym, field house, and cafeteria. They had very little time, places, or even opportunities to shower so many went to sleep sweaty and dirty from the hard day’s work. However, they still had smiles on their faces, grateful for this experience to serve.

This is a dynamic group of people.”

— Stacey Smith

“I enjoyed meeting and visiting with many of the people,” LCM High School Activities Director and on-call facility manager Stacey Smith said. “The organization functions like a super organized work force army. It was truly amazing to see them all camped out only to return the next day and there was no sign that so many people had spent the night in our gym. It was very humbling to see people give so graciously of their time and talents to help so many strangers in the cleanup and recovery process. There were 600 people there, (sleeping) in the gym, cafeteria and field house. This is a dynamic group of people.”

Smith described a woman caring for many of the others there. This woman had many essential oils with her, preparing for the pains in her body. After rubbing it on her own feet to help the aches in her feet, she started tending to the feet of the other workers. She willingly went around to massage and oil the feet of the other volunteers feet as they ached from their work day. Smith said she was astounded by this woman’s continuing willingness to serve those around her.

“It reminded me of when Jesus washed His apostles’ feet and I couldn’t help but smile at this woman,” Smith said.

Not only did people visit from far distances to help, but so did many of the churches in this area. Members woke up early every morning for three weeks to check the list of those in need and headed there immediately with only one plan: to get in, tear out, clean up, and move on.

“Some other experiences we had, we were able to gut some people’s homes that weren’t members of our church, actually many people that weren’t members of our church and help them clean their houses out,” Orange LDS Bishop Michael Evans said. “They kept trying to pay us and give us things or compensate us somehow, and it’s fun to teach them we were being paid more than they could ever imagine and it was a privilege to serve.”

Although these Yellow Shirts were out helping, it didn’t mean that they did not have their own struggles at home. Many of these volunteers had their own houses flooded, but left to help others before helping themselves. Many would go home after working to a house that was just as torn up as those that they had been working at, just to wake up the next morning to work again.

“I wasn’t able to help my family as much as I would like to have, but the Helping Hands came to my home and gutted my house while I wasn’t there,” Evans said. “It was a huge blessing, so I got to see both sides of the coin. It was very humbling to know that people came from San Antonio and Alabama or wherever they came from to drive all the way down to come and help us and help me and my family, especially when I wasn’t able to be there myself.”

Through much work and pain, the Helping Hands volunteers were happy with the impact they had made. They got the community ready for the next step of reconstruction faster than what was expected and were able to get citizens back on their feet, well provided for and comfortable. During so much hardship, people had hope that everything would be okay. With a new perspective on the comforts they would gain again, they were grateful for the things they had.

“We were excited about their arrival,” Orange citizen Kim Roberts said. “Like everyone else experiencing the effects of Harvey, we were completely overwhelmed by the task at hand. They came by the car loads full, and were quite a sight to behold. My husband was amazed to see so many men so eager to help. Given the opportunity, we would love to thank each and every one of them and somehow try to express our gratitude. What they did for us was far and beyond anything we would have expected and we will always remember and be grateful for them and their willingness to serve the Lord by serving others.”