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Vicksburg youth help pick up after Hurricane Michael

By Sheri Wallace

Special to The Vicksburg Post

“Everything that has happened since the storm is surreal,” expressed Panama City, Florida, resident Sarah Shipes, as volunteers from the Helping Hands of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cleared her family property of fallen trees and debris left from Hurricane Michael.

The Vicksburg work crew joined volunteers from five states working each weekend in the Florida panhandle since the storm hit. Vicksburg volunteers drove the 6-7 hours to Marianna, Florida, camped in a parking lot, and worked all day during a weekend in November to fulfill as many of the 12,000 work orders requesting help as possible. The Vicksburg youth joined more than 2,700 church volunteers who were also volunteering for several weekends.

Jeffrey Bowers of Marianna, Florida, said, “Y’all make me want to be part of something big. You are touching lives.”

Nate Crimbley, a high school senior at Warren Central High School, was overwhelmed by how quickly a yard and home could be cleaned up when so many people worked together. “It’s truly what the Savior would do, so that’s really why I’m out here, to do what I think He would do,” Abi Wallace said.

community service

While the Vicksburg crew was finishing the cleanup at the first home of the day, the home owner asked if they could help another neighbor whose husband died just days before Hurricane Michael hit.

This newly widowed homeowner was at first skeptical because she felt she couldn’t afford to pay for the cleanup. When she was told there was no fee, she openly wept as her yard was filled with people who quickly cleared her yard and made minor repairs to the outside of her home.

At a short church service Sunday morning for Latter-day Saint volunteers serving in Panama City, Florida, President Aaron Hollaway, Church leader of the Panama City Florida area, looked out and addressed the hundreds of volunteers from several states ages 12 to in their 80’s dressed in yellow Mormon Helping Hands Shirts, and said “Yellow is becoming my favorite color.”

“We’re used to being out on the other side of the service,” he said.

More than 13,000 Latter-day Saint volunteers from 10 southern states, including Florida, gave aid in Baton Rouge after the 2016 Louisiana floods. “Now, your names will be etched in our hearts forever, because of your service to our community,” Hollaway said.

“We prayed for you during storms like Katrina,” expressed grateful, Maureen Sexton, who rode out Hurricane Michael and worried how she and her son could possibly remove the 11 downed trees on her Panama City property.

After the Picayune volunteers removed a tree from her roof and tarped the hole, she explained, “When you guys came, it was a blessing! I’m almost 85, and I am still here for a reason! The windows blew out, the bathroom skylight’s gone, and trees are on my porch roof. I will never forget you!”

President Michael Dohm as the leader of one of the seven area congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed, “The aftermath of Hurricane Michael has provided another opportunity for us to use our helping hands in an organized relief effort. I am so humbled by the willingness of our members as they put their lives on hold to go to the rescue of our neighbors in Florida. These men and women as well as youth know firsthand what it is like to experience the devastation caused by these storms. So we come with our bright yellow shirts hoping to be a ray of hope to those in need with our attitude and with our labor.”

LDS Charities continue to donate truckloads of food and supplies from its storehouses in Salt Lake City and in Atlanta, Georgia. Latter-day Saints Helping Hands Volunteers volunteer their time, and travel at their own expense and provide relief using their own tools if possible, including chain saws, trailers, trucks and more.

People in Florida needing aid can call the Hurricane Relief Hotline: 1-800-451-1954. Organizations who want to get involved can contact Latter-day Saint, find information on the crisis cleanup website, or find more volunteer opportunities on JustServe.org.