Mississippi Members Help Clean Up Tornado Mess
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
Hundreds of members were joined by scores of their neighbors in a massive weekend service project to assist folks in southern Mississippi whose homes or property were damaged by a tornado that hit February 10.
Of the unified cleanup effort, Hattiesburg Mississippi Stake public affairs coordinator Jim Thorderson said, “It was a great experience. Here in the South we take care of each other.”
Crews of Latter-day Saints from several area stakes donned the familiar yellow “Helping Hands” T-shirts and spent the February 16–17 weekend working shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors and folks from other local religious congregations. Elders and sisters from the Mississippi Jackson Mission were also utilized in the effort. Crews cleared trees and debris from roofs, yards, and driveways using chain saws, front-end loaders, and other heavy equipment. Others cleared homes of sodden drywall, furniture, and other household items that were damaged by heavy rains that fell following the tornado.
In all, 235 work orders were filled and almost 7,000 service hours were recorded.
The service project was defined by cooperation as men and women from throughout the Hattiesburg community and beyond worked together to help those in need. For local members, the cleanup effort offered a unique opportunity to strengthen friendships and worship together with their neighbors.
Before spending the Sabbath clearing homes of fallen pines and other debris, members gathered for an early-morning sacrament meeting at the Hattiesburg stake center. Brief talks were shared at the meeting by Hattiesburg Mississippi Stake President Kevin B. Pack, along with Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Petal, Mississippi, Mayor Hal Marx. President Pack and both mayors spoke of the miracles that had been witnessed amid the destruction. Some 2,100 homes in the region were damaged and many people were injured—yet no lives were lost to the tornado.
Following the sacrament service, Mayor DuPree pulled on a “Helping Hands” T-shirt and spent the day laboring alongside the members at the various work order sites.
Volunteers from the Hattiesburg stake were also joined over the weekend by fellow members from neighboring stakes in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Brother Thorderson spoke of the level of organization in the Hattiesburg cleanup effort that is a by-product of LDS efforts during other recent natural disasters in the region. Priesthood and Relief Society leaders have worked closely with local Red Cross and other civic and religious organizations to respond quickly to those in need. The stake also set up a website in the hours following the tornado where people could request assistance or offer to volunteer. The data collected on that site was used to organize work orders for the service project. Missionaries also went door to door in impacted neighborhoods to identify service needs and let tornado victims know that the Church was ready and anxious to help.
Stake service project organizers also worked closely with local radio, newspapers, and television stations to solicit work order requests. Brother Thorderson said several media outlets have filed uplifting stories about the combined assistance efforts of members and their neighbors.
Stake leaders will continue to assess the needs of the community and added that they are committed to helping Hattiesburg get back on its feet.