Church News and Events

After Hurricane Sandy, Saints Give and Receive Service

  By Whitney Evans, Church News staff writer

  • 9 November 2012

Elder Michael Wilkensen from New Mexico and Elder Andrew Jensen from Utah help clear a telephone poll out of a Staten Island resident's back yard. The Church, along with other organizations, is actively involved in relief efforts on the East Coast of the U.S. following Hurricane Sandy.

The storm that affected more than 60 million people, killing more than 110 in the United States, 11 in Cuba, and 65 in the Caribbean, has caused millions of dollars in damage and brought countless acts of charitable service. Latter-day Saints have been on the giving and receiving end of such service.

“The city’s crawling back, the area’s crawling back,” said Manhattan New York Temple president W. Blair Garff. To accommodate patrons and workers who face limited to nonexistent public transportation, gas shortages, and restrictions for vehicles entering the city, the temple schedule was altered to include only evening sessions and a handful of sessions on Saturdays. President Garff added that hours will extend similar to the pace at which the recovery is progressing.

Because recovery was so quick for the Boston Massachusetts Stake, members have organized teams to help out in surrounding areas such as New Haven, Connecticut, and possibly New York for the weekend of November 9–11.

“We’re looking forward to getting down there and helping in any way we can,” said Kevin B. Rollins, president of the Boston Massachusetts Stake.  

Full-time missionaries in the New York New York South Mission were deployed in Staten Island, Rockaway, and Long Beach, and couple missionaries unloaded trucks of supplies—coats, boots, blankets, gloves, and hats—sent from the Washington, D.C., coordinating council. 

The weekend of November 4, Kevin Calderwood, president of the New York New York South Mission, coordinated 500 volunteers; they are anticipating up to four times as many volunteers for the November 9–11 weekend.  

On November 3, missionaries were in the Rockaways area, clearing debris from homes. In addition to lending physical service, the missionaries prayed with families and brought hope. 

“In that area they call the missionaries their little yellow armies of happiness,” President Calderwood said. 

For decades missionary work in the area has been slow, but at the end of their first day of service, when the missionaries gathered for a group picture, they were greeted with cheers from those they helped.  

“It is softening hearts, and regardless of what you read in the press, these New Yorkers are resilient and are keeping their humor,” President Calderwood said. “The Lord has a way of turning calamities into His favor.” 

Elder Jeffrey E. Olson, Area Seventy over three coordinating councils in the New York South, New York North, and Morristown New Jersey Areas, said there were two types of major destruction: “remarkably severe” coastal flooding—filling basements and destroying homes—and downed trees that triggered power outages.   

After assessing their own needs and ensuring the 10 to 15 LDS families who lost homes were taken in, members of the Brooklyn New York Stake shifted their efforts outward to help the community at large, said Robert D. Shull, first counselor in the stake presidency.

The relief effort has gone back to the roots of missionary work, with people going door to door asking people how they can best help. 

“The missionaries have been fantastic. They were there helping in the cleanup right away,” said David L. Duffy, Queens New York Stake president. He said his stake includes the Lynbrook district and Breezy Point, areas that received significant damage.  

A week after the storm, electricity was still out in most of Long Island. On the south shore, he said, there has been a risk of looting and people are staying in their homes, in the dark, to protect their belongings. 

He said it is just the beginning of the cleanup efforts and that it will take months to rebuild. 

Cleanup is going OK in the East Brunswick area, said stake president Gregory J. Stokes, but they are waiting for water to recede so they can do more extensive cleanup. 

“I don’t even know how to quantify the damage that is on the shore and in homes.”

He said even with six to eight weeks and thousands of volunteers, he is not sure how quickly the recovery will go. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are active in the area, and a lot of materials have been donated. 

However, he said, it has been “wonderful” and “eye-opening” to see the generosity of the people in New Jersey. 

President Bruce D. Jones of the Morristown New Jersey Stake said they have identified all the members of their stake, and power has been restored to most of the stake. They have cleaned the homes of neighbors, friends, and first responders. 

Michele Calderon, director of public affairs for the Church’s Baltimore Maryland Stake coordinating council, said most people in their stake were affected by flooded basements or power outages but, for the most part, the damage was minimal. They focused their efforts on helping those who were more heavily affected. On November 5, the stake hosted a collection effort in conjunction with other stakes in the D.C. area. The response, she said, was overwhelming. 

“I’ve never in my life seen anything like this in the Church. It was incredible.” 

They received 500 boxes of clothing and coats and $16,400 in gift cards, and they filled two 32-foot trucks to capacity.