“Members Assist with Flood, Tornado Cleanup,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 79–80
Hundreds of members in the midwestern United States and Texas have volunteered their time in cleanup efforts after terrible tornadoes and flooding destroyed homes and businesses in both areas.
On Tuesday, 27 May, six tornadoes roared through four counties in Texas, leaving unidentifiable debris where just a few minutes before homes and businesses had stood. The worst tornado hit in Jarrell, a small community of less than 1,000 people. An estimated 27 people were killed.
Howard Nicholas, president of the Austin Texas Stake, said that many members volunteered to help those affected by the tornadoes. “None of the Church members in the stake were injured, but five members’ homes sustained damage and one will have to be rebuilt.”
Grant Almond, bishop of the Cedar Park Ward, organized members to help clean up. Cedar Park lies about 5 miles northwest of Austin and was hit by a tornado at around 4 P.M. “Thirty or forty minutes after the tornado hit we had all of the members accounted for in the immediate area,” Bishop Almond said. “We immediately went over to help those who were affected. Members brought lanterns and cooking stoves and provided child care for those who needed to repair their houses and clean up debris.”
Keith and Vivian Groscost, members of the Cedar Park Ward, sought shelter in a ground-level bathroom and a closet. “My wife and a neighbor girl went into a bathroom, and I went into a closet with the dog,” said Brother Groscost.
“The whole time I just remember feeling calm, and I knew everything would be all right,” says Sister Groscost. “Later, when I recalled the experience to someone, I realized that it was the Comforter who had brought me that feeling.” The Groscosts’ house sustained some damage; other houses nearby were completely destroyed.
“We had approximately 100 ward members out helping the next day,” says Bishop Almond. Members came and helped the Groscosts and their neighbors clean up. Ward members were also encouraged to help the Red Cross and other relief organizations.
Other members of the Cedar Park Ward were affected. Mike and Kelly Smith’s two youngest sons were home with Bishop Almond’s 14-year-old son, David, when the tornado hit. The first thing the three boys did was pray. “David said they knew everything would be all right after that,” said Brother Smith.
Members from the ward helped the Smiths find a rental home and helped them move. They also brought meals, took care of their children, and offered other assistance. “I cannot explain how I feel about the compassionate service and kindness of the people that helped us,” says Sister Smith. “I am just so grateful. I’m also grateful to Heavenly Father; I know that he cares about us and sees us as individuals. We know the Lord protected our children.”
Spring flooding in the Midwest’s Red River Valley has brought many opportunities for members around the country to serve. Busload after busload of members has traveled hundreds of miles to aid the flood victims.
The valley, reaching over 200 miles from the north-flowing Red River headwaters at Wahpeton, North Dakota, to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, includes major population centers at Wahpeton, Fargo, and Grand Forks, North Dakota, and their twin cities across the river in Minnesota. Many of the flood victims have been assisted, directly or indirectly, by the Church, either through truckloads of food and supplies the Church has distributed or through LDS volunteer labor.
In the Grand Forks Second Ward, Bishop Carl Johnson reported that within his ward boundaries 300 nonmember households and businesses have been served by members. “Members from Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, and North Dakota have come to help,” he said.
Early Saturday morning, 3 May, 100 members of the Anoka Minnesota Stake traveled four hours one way on buses to Wahpeton, North Dakota, and its twin town of Breckenridge, Minnesota, to help dismantle sandbag dikes and to help residents remove heavy appliances and carpeting from flooded basements.
“It was so wonderful that they came,” said Murel Wanek, a nonmember. The Waneks, a retired couple, had been trying to get their refrigerator out of the basement by themselves. Five members helped them move the refrigerator, washer, dryer, freezer, beds, and other furniture.
On 10 May, more members from the Anoka stake returned, joining 400 members from the Minneapolis and St. Paul stakes. The volunteers arrived in Grand Forks at 11 A.M. after a five-hour drive; they worked until 7 P.M. and then boarded the buses to go home.
LDS Social Services Minnesota agency director Glen Grygla, headquartered in Minneapolis, traveled on one of the buses. He explained that some volunteers “drove an hour and a half to get to the buses, which left at 4:30 A.M. The buses were packed.” When the members arrived in Grand Forks, they worked with flood-disaster officials to determine where the need for help was greatest.
The help coming from members has been graciously received. After assisting Bishop Johnson in his home, Brother Grygla helped the bishop’s neighbors. One neighbor mentioned that his father-in-law needed help but said the retired gentleman would never ask for assistance. Members went to the home and “got everything out of the basement, including cabinets, sinks, and a cast-iron bathtub,” said Brother Grygla. “We went in and wiped the whole basement out. He was so grateful. The gentleman became choked up as the members left. ‘I want you to know I’ll never forget you guys,’ he told us.”
In the Winnipeg Manitoba Stake, members have been assisting the Salvation Army to sort and distribute clothing donated by organizations and families nationwide to those whose homes were flooded.
“The missionaries sang Primary songs as they sandbagged people’s homes,” Brother Moore said. “Other workers shed a few tears as they heard the singing. One woman has attended church for three Sundays and started investigating the Church because of her experiences with the missionaries on the sandbag lines.”