“Saints Dig Out, Clean Up During Harsh Winter,” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 77–79
The snow descended, the floods came, the winds blew, and the Saints pitched in.
And so went winter this year throughout much of the United States and Europe. While New England members of the Church dug through four to five feet of snow, members in California coped with heavy rains and flooding. In the eastern U.S., members isolated by the storms shared their food storage with neighbors. In La Crescenta, California, members helped clean up flood damage.
Boston, Massachusetts, was smothered by two to three feet of snow that added to two feet already on the ground in February. Wind whipped snow into twelve-foot drifts.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the Saints in general were much better prepared for this type of imposed isolation by the weather than were many of our friends and neighbors,” says President Gordon Williams of the Boston Massachusetts Stake.
“There were many examples where members dug into their own home storage material and passed it out to friends and neighbors who could not get to the store.”
Boston was so buried that—like other places in the East—roads were closed for days while military personnel and other crews attempted to clean the clogged streets.
Through the home teaching network, the Church kept in touch with members, President Williams says. Home teachers checked on members and in some cases helped them meet emergency circumstances.
“One woman had a severe asthma attack, and her home teacher arranged transportation to the hospital,” President Williams says. Other home teachers dug passageways from homes to streets for shut-ins and others who could not shovel their own walkways.
Home teaching also provided a way to conduct Church services on Sunday when people could not reach the Church facilities. Members met in homes for Sunday School and sacrament meetings.
“For example, the Cambridge First Ward had ten different Sunday School and sacrament meetings held throughout the ward boundaries, with members gathering with other members in each others’ homes.
“Incidentally, the attendance at those home sacrament meetings was about 20 percent higher than the usual attendance,” President Williams says.
Members also baked bread for neighbors who lacked food storage. They shared canned foods, powdered milk, honey, and other staple items.
“That obviously served as a good missionary tool, too,” he says.
Most home heating in the Boston area is with oil. With streets full of snow and snowed-in cars, access to homes was difficult. When a family in an area of Boston ran out of heating oil, the member neighbor and other neighbors shoveled a roadway to the family’s home, so that the oil truck could replenish the family’s supply.
“There was a universal good feeling of the people involved—a great swell of comradeship, esprit de corps, that we’re all in it together, so we all have to work together to overcome the problems that we have,” President Williams says.
Between 100 and 150 people in the Boston area died during and soon after the storms, among them only one known member. He died from a heart attack while shoveling snow.
Ruth Tingey, stake Relief Society president in the Boston Massachusetts Stake, says the storm made her want to preach the virtues of family preparedness.
“I think everybody’s pulled together, but I just feel like I want to stand up on a tower and say, ‘Okay, you people, get prepared.’ We just extended what we could to the neighbors.”
The Tingeys have had their food storage for years, but in the last two years they have tried to store a year’s supply of fuel. They purchased a Norwegian wood-burning stove and stocked wood.
“We felt very confident when the storm hit, that whatever happened we could manage. We had heat. It’s just been an adventure for us. For some people, it’s been tragic, or very, very difficult.”
Banding together and digging out were also the story in Los Angeles, when heavy rains flooded and broke a catch-basin dam in the La Crescenta area.
A member family’s home was filled with twenty-four to thirty inches of mud when the dam broke. Within an hour of the flood, fifty members of the Tajunga Ward at Tajunga, California, were at the Fred Nash home, cleaning out the mud. For seventeen hours, the group ripped up carpets, hosed down walls, cleaned floors and repaired flood and mud damage.
“They’re in pretty good shape now,” says Stake President Don Lee Rogers of the La Crescenta California Stake. “Originally, the city indicated that the house would be a total loss. But with the help of members, damage will be minimal.”
In the same ward, other members of the Church had lesser damage to their homes. Others from the stake and region helped clean homes of both members and nonmembers. Many yards and lots had significant damage, and some were washed away entirely. Some members also lost automobiles.
Members in the La Crescenta Ward had minor damage to their homes when another catch-basin overflowed. Four of the seven wards in the stake are in areas that were flooded. No Church members were known to have lived in the town of Hidden Springs, California, which was washed away completely.
Flooding and storms were so serious in the Providence Rhode Island Stake that most counties in the locale were declared disaster areas. Even so, there was little disruption in the life-style of the members there, says Stake President Brent W. Lambert.
Auxiliary meetings were canceled, and some Saints couldn’t attend church because of closed roads.
Homes of at least two Church member families were damaged, he says, and the families had to be evacuated.
“They even weathered that well,” says President Lambert.
Winds in excess of 100 miles per hour, high tides, and twenty-foot-high waves endangered those who lived near the water. Stores were closed for thirty-six hours, but food trucks got through to restock store shelves.
Some areas of the stake were covered with 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet of snow, but water was the problem. Rhode Island’s transportation was curtailed for a week while snow was cleared. The stake includes many areas hardest hit by the storms, including southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and southeastern Connecticut.
“There was a really good spirit of cooperation among all the people in the towns. People who had vehicles were providing transportation for others—they’re used to doing it here,” says President Lambert.
“The great benefit of this whole experience has been being home with my family,” he says.
Family ties also became important in New York, when New York City got enough snow to clog traffic and make commuting nearly impossible. Some Church members who hadn’t heard from relatives throughout the country for months soon got telephone calls from worried kin.
Visiting teaching and home teaching also boomed, say Church members in New York City. Home teachers checked on their families, and visiting teachers offered help. Bishops in the area report higher percentages of home teaching than normal.
While some families in the area dipped into their food storage during the worst of the storm, some families had little to dip into. One inactive family went without food for 2 1/2 days, until relatives from California called to see how they were faring. When the New York family told of their food shortage, the Californians called the hungry family’s bishop in New York.
Some Church members took the lead in helping New Yorkers cope with the storm. Walter Stanzig, security guard at Governor’s Island in New York City, helped organize shoveling, cleaning, and evacuation.
As snow melted in suburban Westchester, New York, the basement of the Westchester meetinghouse flooded. Pumps wouldn’t work, because a snow-laden tree had fallen and hit power lines. Many priesthood holders helped bail out the water.
However, even snowstorms have their silver linings.
The New York City Visitors Center became a warm stop for many chilly New Yorkers. One man who came inside to get warm took a tour of the center and asked for information about the Church. On a referral card he wrote, “Please call and see me. I want to know more about the Church.” He is now being taught.