Thousands of Mormon Helping Hands Volunteers Clean Up Hurricane Irma’s Mess in Florida

Contributed By Nikki Lallatin, Church News contributor

  • 24 October 2017

A Mormon Helping Hands volunteer helps clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

Article Highlights

  • Volunteers helped with debris cleanup, tree removal, mold assistance, and drywall and appliance removal.

“To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.” —President Thomas S. Monson

Michelle Coldiron and her daughter, Mallory, were just getting their home-based business established when their office, along with both of their homes, were devastated by the floodwaters of Hurricane Irma in Marathon, Florida. 

The September 2017 storm ravaged the Florida Keys as a powerful category 4 storm, leaving millions without power and thousands of houses destroyed or damaged.

Michelle, who serves as vice mayor of Marathon, and her family now face the overwhelming task of starting over, rebuilding from nothing, and moving forward. Through this time of devastating loss, she has looked to the helpers as one positive element: “For every wave of destruction from Irma, I have received a wave of humility and a wave of hope as I see strangers helping strangers.”

She described the first wave of hope as when she saw the iconic bright shirts of Mormon Helping Hands cleaning up the Catholic church she attends. “As I came up on the church and I saw the yellow shirts, I broke down in tears,” she said. “I thought, in all of this, we are all children of God.”

She and her daughter also received aid at both of their homes and their backyard office by Mormon Helping Hands volunteers. “[Mormon Helping Hands] was an amazing boost of morale to our community. [They] brought hope to every street in our town,” she said in a phone interview. She went on to describe the impact that the yellow-clad volunteers had on the rest of the community. “[They] are leading by example; all these yellow shirts came in to help and inspired neighbors to reach out and help their neighbors.”

A Mormon Helping Hands volunteer helps clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

Over the three weekends following the storm, 10,006 volunteers from the LDS Church traveled to the Keys to volunteer a total of 131,378 hours, completing 5,467 work orders. Volunteers provided essential services to residents in their homes, including debris cleanup, tree removal, mold assistance, and drywall and appliance removal. Many of those served were elderly or disabled and unable to clear their homes themselves.

Families woke up at 2:00 a.m. to make 5-hour drives to serve together. Many volunteers camped overnight to be able to volunteer both days. Volunteers worked from sunrise to evening in 90-degree heat, with no access to electricity or running water, yet spirits remained high. Some crews sang hymns with the storm victims after completing their work. Many prayed together. Neighbors saw the work being done and joined in their efforts, embracing in hugs and expressing heartfelt gratitude.

A grateful Marathon, Florida, resident hugs a Mormon Helping Hands volunteer who helped clean up her yard after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

One Marathon resident, Ginger, was unable to work on her own house, as she lived alone and had been working overtime as a first responder. She saw the Mormon Helping Hands number on a Facebook post and was ecstatic to hear that she could receive free help. A crew arrived at her house, and after hours of work, they ended in prayer. Ginger, along with every crew member, erupted in tears as they stood in the circle of prayer. After they had left, Ginger sent a text to a crew member saying, “You all are amazing people. I asked God for some blessing in all of this and He told me … look for helpers … and, lo and behold, you showed up at my house.”

While the victims of Irma may see the outer fruits of Mormon Helping Hands’ labor, members of the Church know that the greatest benefits of service are felt within. Many members reported the strengthening of their personal testimonies while serving in the Keys and the closeness they felt to Christ through service.

As President Monson teaches us: “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy” (“The Joy of Service,“ Oct. 2009 New Era).
 

A Marathon, Florida, resident poses with the Mormon Helping Hands volunteers who helped to clear debris from her home after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

A home in Marathon, Florida, shows the damage from the floodwaters of Hurricane Irma. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

A home in Marathon, Florida, shows the damage from the floodwaters of Hurricane Irma. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

A Mormon Helping Hands volunteer helps clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

A Mormon Helping Hands volunteer helps clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

A Mormon Helping Hands volunteer helps clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers clear debris from a yard in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.

A grateful Marathon, Florida, resident hugs a Mormon Helping Hands volunteer who helped clean up her yard after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September 2017. Photo by Mackenzi Gilmore.