By: Carly Levy
Thousands of members of a Coral Springs church spent the past three weekends helping those who were hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.
The Church of Latter Day Saints spent hundreds of hours at Everglades City, Key West, Cudjoe Key, Big Pine Key and Marathon helping hurricane victims. Along with local firefighters, they created a relief station in Everglades City that held supplies that were distributed to members of the community who needed them, including rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, food supplies, medical supplies and hygiene kits, all supplied by the National Guard.
“Religion isn’t what you hear sitting in the pews; it’s how you act after the storm is over,” said Church Stake President Stephen Smith. “Situations like this give us a chance to live our religion and help our fellow man.”
He said that the mess that Hurricane Irma left was heartbreaking and that people are going to have to start their lives completely over. “Everything they own is gone and they’ve got to more than anything find a way to just get up and start over and find that hope that keeps us all going. That’s what I think we provided more than anything – just a little bit of hope.”
Everglades City suffered a storm surge of four to eight feet of water that caused massive damage. As residents were trying to figure out how to piece their lives back together, church members wearing Mormon Helping Hands t-shirts working in teams lent their help to salvage the residents’ homes in various neighborhoods. Tasks included cutting up trees, removing debris, hauling branches to the curb, putting tarp on roofs, washing out baseboards and removing furniture and carpets.
“Time and time again, we’ve had people comment ‘sometimes I wonder if God remembered me’ and then they see things like this where other people are reaching out,” said Smith.
Volunteers included not only members of the Church but also those that came from Georgia and New Orleans. Daline Figaro, a volunteer and five-year member of the church, said that if there was any silver lining to the hurricane, it was that it brought people together.
Not only did volunteers help salvage the homes of those affected, but they also offered them emotional support. For example, an Everglades City resident opened up to volunteer Nathan Rose about how she lost her husband due to health complications that came from the hurricane. Volunteer Krista Mabey spoke to a man who lost all of his possessions that reminded him of his deceased wife in the hurricane.
“It was heartbreaking… but you let him know that life goes on, that people care about him, that things will eventually be okay even though it’s hard to recover from something like that,” said Mabey. “There are people who care and will help out. That he’s not forgotten.”
Rose and another volunteer, Sally Parker, felt there was more destruction in Big Pine Key than anywhere else because of the massive mud and water damage.
“There was so much damage and so much debris that [a Big Pine Key family] couldn’t even open the gate to get to their house, let alone assess what had gone on the inside,” said Rose. “There was a lot of cutting trees and hauling things out of the way so that they can even get to their house.”
Efforts are still ongoing for many more weekends to help Florida residents who were affected by Hurricane Irma. If you’d like to help, please contact The Church of Latter Day Saints in Coral Springs (954) 341-1725.