By: Jen Russon
Hurricane Michael, the second major hurricane to make landfall this season, packed winds of up to 155 miles per hour and devastated the Florida Panhandle in October.
In the storm’s aftermath, cleanup of downed homes, buildings and trees is critical.
Just as they did after Irma made landfall last year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints responded in kind by manning a call center, and sending volunteers to help survivors. The same volunteer effort is back, with church representatives for the Broward area emphasizing you don’t have to be Mormon to help.
“We are not worried about recruiting new church members, just volunteers. Our call center is done entirely on mobile phones. We don’t work from the church. Things are set up so when volunteers speak with people, their cell phone numbers cannot be seen,” said Diahan Southard, director of LDS Public Affairs.
Southard added that her husband, Jared and their 15-year-old son, Jack just returned from Panama City, where they helped clear downed trees. She said the LDS church has a command center in the Panhandle, equipped with wheelbarrows, shovels, chainsaws and other tools to assist with relief efforts.
Work crews of up to twenty people, mostly members of the LDS congregation in Coral Springs, camp on church property or on the beach during cleanup trips.
“We don’t want to take hotels away from residents in affected areas who need them,” Southard said, adding that their volunteers bring all their own food and water as well.
Southard went on to describe the relief effort that is so much bigger than boots on the ground. She said there are roughly 100 people in the greater Coral Springs area who have been trained to man the phones and create work orders that can then be acted on by those in the area.
President Stephen Smith, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints reported that one hour in the call center saves about 29 hours for workers on the ground.
“Otherwise they have to assess the homes, create a work order, and gather resources once they get there, rather than having information ready before they arrive on site,” said Smith.
He also said that the biggest need seems to be tree removal, describing one Hurricane Michael survivor’s loss of more than 100 trees, creating a job he could never handle on his own.
Smith confirmed that a few weeks ago, the call center received 2,177 calls for help, 856 of which were answered by volunteers in the Coral Springs area. He said that if anyone else in the west Broward area would like to get involved in the effort, they can contact Tyler Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Bishop assists with first time registration and log in at crisiscleanup.org.