Members’ Contributions Help Church Respond to Disasters

  By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 8 October 2013

LDS missionary Elder Moore helps with cleanup efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the northeast coast of the United States in 2012.  © IRI. All rights reserved.

Article Highlights

  • Volunteer members donated 1.3 million hours of service last year.
  • Disaster responses in 2012 included Hurricane Sandy, civil unrest in Syria, typhoons in the Philippines, tornadoes in the United States, and earthquake recovery in Japan.
  • Opportunities to serve can be found right outside your front door and even in your home.

“As members of the Church, we follow Jesus Christ and His example by helping anyone in need.” —Steve Peterson, managing director of Church Welfare Services

Natural disasters, war, famine, and poverty across the globe have provided the Church with tremendous opportunities to provide service and aid. From the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami to tornadoes destroying cities in the United States, the Church has provided emergency help to people everywhere regardless of their political, cultural, or religious background.

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matthew 25:35–36).

During 2012 the Church provided victims of 104 disasters in 52 countries with hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, water, clothing, medical supplies, hygiene kits, and other relief items. “As members of the Church, we follow Jesus Christ and His example by helping anyone in need,” said Steve Peterson, managing director of Church Welfare Services, which includes humanitarian aid and disaster response.

The Church is often praised for its quick response in sending aid. Before Hurricane Katrina hit land in 2005, supplies were already on the way.

“We strive to be among the first on the scene working through priesthood leaders,” said Lynn Samsel, director of Church Emergency Response. “They determine the need through inspiration and make requests for relief supplies. We work to fulfill those requests.”

For example, mormonnewsroom.org reported that local Church leaders last year organized thousands of member volunteers to distribute food, water, clothing, and supplies to assist those affected by disasters. This resulted in more than 1.3 million volunteer hours of service donated (worth an estimated $28 million).

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

In August 2012 the Manila area of the Philippines was hit with a tropical storm, which caused flooding affecting 900,000 people. © IRI. All rights reserved.

Church members also helped distribute food, water, clothing, cleaning supplies, shovels, generators, water pumps, and other items. In 2012 the Church’s biggest response was for Hurricane Sandy. Approximately 28,000 Church members donated almost 300,000 hours of service to communities along the East Coast of the United States.

Other disaster responses in 2012 occurred in Syria (civil unrest), the Philippines (typhoons), the United States (tornadoes), and Japan (continuing 2011 earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts).

“Two years before in Haiti, we had nine chapels in Port au Prince just before the earthquake,” said Brother Samsel. “When members lost their homes, they came to the chapels, along with their friends and neighbors. There were almost a thousand people at each of those chapels seeking help and shelter.”

In a PBS video special about Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana resident James Madison spoke about member volunteer relief efforts: “Before the storm I had Mormons knock on my door. ... The object was to try to get rid of them as fast as possible. ... After the storm it’s a little bit different now. They’re part of my family and always will be. They got into my heart, and they will never stand on my doorstep again without being invited into my house.”

A group of missionaries from the New York New York South Mission helps remove the remains of a fence destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in a neighborhood in Broad Channel, New York. photo © IRI.

“We have received many thank-you letters and praise for the help the Church has given,” said Brother Samsel. A letter from a couple helped by the Church said, “My wife and I wanted to thank the ‘yellow shirts’ who swarmed our yard following the Joplin tornado in May. Their kindness and generosity helping with debris cleanup was truly appreciated. God bless you, Taylor and Tara Bear.”

All the funds necessary to support the emergency response efforts in the Church come directly from the Humanitarian Aid Fund. Tithing and fast offerings are not used for relief efforts.

Asked how members of the Church can help with humanitarian service, Brother Samsel said, “We can help by giving to the humanitarian fund, but also there are needs right in our own communities. No matter where you live, there are many opportunities—helping the homeless, people with disabilities, doing yard work, tending kids, and visiting the sick and afflicted. Look right out your front door for opportunities to serve. You may even find the need is right in your own home.”

At the closing of the October 2008 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson said: “Your contributions to the funds of the Church enable us to respond almost immediately when disasters occur anywhere in the world. We are nearly always among the first on the scene to provide whatever assistance we can. We thank you for your generosity” (“Until We Meet Again”).