On this week of gratitude there is special thanks coming from a section of Florida that was humbled earlier this year by Hurricane Michael. Thousands of neighbors here in Tampa Bay joined their church week after week long after the rains had dried and the wind settled. They were the Mormon Helping Hands the panhandle needed.
The town of Bristol, FL has been turned upside down.
“Yes, we were here there in our house over there on that property cause I was scared of these trees over here,” says Jennifer Joiner.
Her property saw lots of trees down, and one even fell on her roof. Jennifer Joiner went next door to her elderly and disabled parents as Hurricane Michael came roaring through the Florida panhandle.
“It sounded like freight trains going all throughout the day,” says Joiner.
Afterwards, devastation. Days and weeks of no power. Linemen came from all over to bring the light back to Florida.
“Man, it was pretty bad. Lines everywhere, trees everywhere. A pretty sad deal,” says Tyler Luster with Pike Energy out of Texarcana, TX.
“The hardest part about the whole thing is seeing everything that everybody’s lost. It’s really devastating,” says Luster.
In the quiet of a town left empty after evacuation came the sounds of help. A bright sight in a temporary dull and battered world.
“The yellow shirts are known far and wide. They’re our ticket into a lot of places,” says Robert Howell, a stake president. He’s a spiritual leader for Tampa Bay congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“We have this common theme of wanting to help our fellow man. So when the need is there our members are always quick to respond and come to these places,” says Howell.
The call goes out to congregations in Tampa Bay, across the state, and the rest of the Southeast. These Latter-Day Saints pay to stay in local hotels, or camp out at the church building designated as a command center. The church provides the chainsaws, wheelbarrows, and sleds. Donated items are set up inside and residents take what they need.
“One of the greatest untold stories I believe of all of these disasters is our church and its response. The church will send millions of dollars to these supply locations, without question,” says Howell.
Often times teams of Mormon Helping Hands start before the federal agencies can mobilize.
“They do a wonderful job. They have plenty of supplies. We got a hundred tarps, or two hundred tarps from FEMA, no questions asked. They just don’t have the people. They have the resources but they don’t have the people,” says Howell.
While this may be an act of god, the stronger force may come in the smiles and hard work of Mormon Helping Hands.
“Those are awesome people, to help your neighbor like this and you don’t even know them,” says Joiner. “That was a blessing”