500 LDS missionaries helping neighbors in Sandy's wake

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

Commuters cross New York's Brooklyn Bridge, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. The floodwaters that poured into New York's deepest subway tunnels may pose the biggest obstacle to the city's recovery from the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Richard Drew, ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK CITY — Some 500 full-time missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took to the flooded streets and wind-blown neighborhoods still reeling from the effects of superstorm Sandy Wednesday to assess the status of LDS Church members in the area and to offer a helping hand to anyone in need.

“It’s been a long day of hard, dirty work,” said President Kevin E. Calderwood of the church’s New York New York South Mission late Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve been in basements, on roofs, in yards cutting down trees, hauling things out of people’s houses, pulling out carpet and doing whatever people need us to do to help.”

A total of about 500 LDS missionaries from Calderwood’s mission, as well as from the New York New York North and New Jersey Morristown missions, have been working non-stop in the most heavily impacted areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut since the storm’s high winds subsided.

“Under the direction of our local church leaders we’ve been spreading out to the hardest-hit areas,” Calderwood said, indicating that in his mission that included the Far Rockaway and Long Beach areas. “The devastation is overwhelming. Some of these people have lost everything. We’re doing everything we can to help.”

A number of members in those areas are living temporarily in the LDS Church’s Lynbrook and Freeport meetinghouses because their homes have been completely demolished.

“They don’t have any place else to live, so for now they’ll be living at those meetinghouses until other arrangements can be made,” Calderwood said. “We’ve arranged for some generators to provide power for them while they are there.”

In addition to helping members of the LDS Church, the missionaries are reaching out to the families of first responders (“They are all out working and helping others, and their families are in need,” Calderwood said), those with special needs (including the elderly) and community members in general.

“This isn’t about just helping our members,” Calderwood said. “We’re here to help anyone and everyone. We’re here to serve. And right now, this is the service that is needed.”

What generally happens, he said, is the missionaries start working at one location in groups of six or more. “Then while we are working,” Calderwood said, “people come over to us and say, ‘Can you help us here?’ And of course we can. So before long we get pretty spread out, helping wherever we can.”

Occasionally Calderwood will get a call from an LDS stake or ward leader who says, “We are sending out five crews with chain saws to cut up trees that have fallen. We need four or five missionaries with each crew to haul the wood away.”

“And so we’ll send missionaries to haul wood,” Calderwood said.

And not just the missionaries. Calderwood said a number of LDS Church members have been serving right alongside the missionaries. And as others in the community see the groups working together, they join in too.

"They just see us out helping, clearing trees, and they start helping their neighbors, too," he said.

One of the major challenges the missionaries face in this work is the lack of electrical power for pumps, saws, vacuums and heavy equipment. “It’s hard to even get our cell phones charged,” Calderwood said. “Most of the hardest hit areas are without electrical power. So we’re doing a lot of work manually because we can’t get power to some of the equipment.”

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