“Mormon Helping Hands,” blessing those in need through Christ-like service

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of mankind.  A primary tenet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the true meaning of Christmas is learning to emulate the love and behaviors Christ taught while he was on the earth.

In November, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS” or “Mormon” for short) in Salt Lake City, Utah, 2000 miles west of Hurricane Sandy’s path, initiated steps for relief just as the hurricane made its turn north to the East Coast after smashing across the Caribbean. 

 Mormon Helping Hands assist clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Mormon Helping Hands assist clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Trucks were filled with necessities (toiletries, food, water, generators) and with clean-up supplies (gloves, goggles, masks, shovels) and volunteers headed for New Jersey one to three days even before Sandy reached land.  Within the very first days after Sandy hit the metropolitan New York area, local LDS leaders distributed supplies to hundreds of their Church members (and anyone else who wanted to help) throughout the region to assist neighborhoods in crisis due to the storm.  The helpers wore the yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests and T-shirts.  

 Mormon Helping Hands assist clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Mormon Helping Hands assist clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Some of Connecticut’s coastline, situated on the windward eastern side of the super-storm, was hit almost as badly as New Jersey’s and New York’s but with smaller numbers affected, so it has not received as much media attention.  Nevertheless, in devastated areas of Connecticut, LDS congregations assessed the needs of their local members and any close neighbors within hours after the storm left.  Through an always in-place structure known within the Church as “home teaching” and “visiting teaching,” every congregant could rapidly contact other congregants, either by phone or by driving to see first-hand if their friends were okay and could find out what neighbors might also need urgent help.  Problems were quickly reported to local Church leaders.  After all, the LDS Church had lots of practice in the wake Hurricane Irene and the October blizzard in 2011.

Two young Mormon missionaries:  Sis. Broekhuijsen (left, of Highland, UT) and Sis. Vicente (right, of Cape Verde, Africa) devoted many days to Hurricane Sandy cleaning up along Connecticut?s coastline.

Two young Mormon missionaries: Sis. Broekhuijsen (left, of Highland, UT) and Sis. Vicente (right, of Cape Verde, Africa) devoted many days to Hurricane Sandy cleaning up along Connecticut?s coastline.

During the first week of the storm, Helping Hands groups organized so rapidly that by the first weekend after Sandy, over a hundred local LDS members and an additional 100 LDS missionaries went out as Mormon Helping Hand volunteers to spend most of Saturday Nov. 3 and Sunday Nov. 4 working in wrecked neighborhoods along Connecticut’s shore.  In some communities farther from primary impact (Old Saybrook and Madison) the groups numbered perhaps only a dozen.  In others with more substantial need (Milford, Bridgeport, and Fairfield) the groups were much larger.  Congregants also provided lunches for the workers.  In addition, Church members in northern Connecticut began drives to collect coats, sweaters, hats, gloves and other warm clothes, personal hygiene items and thousands of dollars worth of food.

Mormon Helping Hands served LDS members and anyone else who needed it, often going door to door along beach communities with flyers offering help, gratis.  And they did get takers — and a lot of gratitude.

On  Nov. 9. missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began a service mission to clean up neighborhoods along Connecticut’s coastline devastated by Sandy, joining more than 200 Connecticut LDS members.  The missionaries drove from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut to Madison, CT.  They brought sleeping bags, toiletries and their work gear for the next day.  Young men stayed overnight in the gym of the local LDS church building.  Senior missionary couples and twenty-eight young women missionaries were housed for the night in the homes of local congregants.

At 6:30 the next morning, wearing their yellow Helping Hands gear, they were ready to eat breakfast prepared by congregants.  They blessed the food and the hands that prepared it, and sang a popular LDS hymn.  More than 200 voices sang out:  “As I have loved you, love one another.  This new commandment:  Love one another.  By this shall men know, ye are my disciples, if ye have love, one to another.”  (John 13:34)

After eating and cleaning up, the missionaries drove to Woodbridge and Trumbull to join 200 local LDS congregants who also helped, many for a second weekend, as Mormon Helping Hands volunteers.   From there, these volunteers received work assignments in Fairfield, Milford, or Bridgeport shoreline neighborhoods.  Other LDS Helping Hands continued to work in smaller groups throughout Connecticut, also.  Well over 3,000 hours of aid were volunteered on Nov. 10 alone.  Many returned to help out on Sunday, too. 

Mormon missionaries from southern New England join local Mormon congregants to assist with Hurricane Sandy beach clean up.

Mormon missionaries from southern New England join local Mormon congregants to assist with Hurricane Sandy beach clean up.

Church members in western Fairfield County volunteered 1,200 hours cleaning a public housing project in Norwalk, while also helping in the shattered Rockaways, N.Y.  Church members in northern Connecticut continued gathering supplies donated locally and from as far away as New Hampshire and trucked the food, warm clothing, and other necessities to stricken areas on the coast.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Latter-day Saint volunteers from dozens of congregations continued to help New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut neighborhoods impacted by Sandy.  Connecticut Church members, in addition to serving their own communities, provided 450 hours of volunteer service on Long Island, for instance.  In the whole region on this holiday weekend, more than 6,500 Mormons answered the call to serve their communities by mucking out flood-damaged homes and treating them against mold.{.image_5}

By the end of November, more than 21,000 Mormon volunteers had provided nearly 197,000 hours of service cleaning; removing damaged and spoiled personal property, drywall, insulation and flooring; moving sand from flooded homes and yards back to beaches; cutting up downed trees; and distributing supplies in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.  More than 150 Connecticut homeowners benefited from these efforts.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided over 400,000 pounds of relief supplies so far, including food, water, blankets, hygiene kits, generators, pumps, tarps, cleaning supplies and fuel.
This month,  Latter-day Saint members around the state  continued helping with cleanup efforts   In eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, where the need has been less urgent, for example, 100 local Mormon Helping Hands provided nearly 2,000 man-hours to neighbors just on one weekend.

Missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve in pairs.  The two missionaries currently assigned to the Madison ward (or parish) and its 17 towns are young women in their early 20s – referred to as “sisters.”  Sister Melissa Broekhuijsen, of Highland, Utah, and Sister Elrronise Samila Borbosa Vicente, of Cape Verde, Africa, served much of the month of November helping clean up Sandy’s destruction.  On Nov. 3, they worked in Old Saybrook and went on to Milford, Connecticut, returning there on Nov. 4.  On Nov. 10 and 11, they worked at one house in Fairfield as part of a larger team that included members (young and old) from various Mormon congregations around Connecticut.  They have worked weekends and many weekdays since Hurricane Sandy hit our state.

Mormon Helping Hands assist clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Mormon Helping Hands assist clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

Sister Broekhuijsen, a missionary for 15 months so far, pointed out that the neighborhoods where the two had worked already had a great sense of community and the Mormon Helping Hands just added to that.  For instance, one local citizen saw all the workers in yellow vests and came to see what was being done, asked if she could help, went home to change clothes, and came to work the rest of the day with the Helping Hands group.  Another neighbor baked a cake and brought it to the young people.  

Sister Vicente, who has so far served 4 months of her 18-month mission, said that nothing can match the wonderful feeling that comes from the chance to be just a little bit like Christ in helping people in a setting where everyone all around needs so much: “their happy faces, their gratitude – this is all so rewarding.”  There’s so much devastation that it would take one family months to accomplish what can be done in a few days with many hands. 

Both sisters emphasized with delight that this service made for the “best” part “of our missions.” 

LDS members from all parts of Connecticut agree that there is a joy that comes with Christ-like service in such a crisis, intensified by joining with neighbors and volunteers of many other faiths, as well as with organizations such as the Red Cross and the Bridgeport Rescue Mission.

One Response to ““Mormon Helping Hands,” blessing those in need through Christ-like service”

  1. Neil

    Thanks for this uplifting story. The service these people rendered is a wonderful reflection of their faith in Jesus Christ.

    Reply

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