Full-time service in Sandy's wake coming to an end for Mormon Helping Hands

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 11:50 a.m. MST

From left, Elizabeth Kirk, Heidi Moss, Katelyn Thacker and Emily Hardman help muck out a New York City home ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Courtesy Emily Hardman

NEW YORK CITY — After a solid month of daily service to victims of Hurricane Sandy’s fury, missionaries in the New York New York City South and New York New York City North missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are “moving toward the end of what we can do,” according to one of their missionary leaders.

“We have to be very careful,” said President Kevin Calderwood, who as president of the New York New York City South Mission is responsible for 200 of the LDS missionaries who have been the heart and soul of LDS service efforts in the areas hardest hit by the storm. Sandy hit the northeastern United States on Oct. 29, resulting in 253 fatalities and an estimated $66 billion in damages.

“We’re getting to the point where we’re surpassing our expertise,” Calderwood said. “We’ve gutted a lot of houses. We’ve taken out furniture and flooring and walls and carpet. We’ve disinfected against mold and cleaned up as much as we could. At this point skilled professionals are needed: carpenters, electricians, sheetrock experts. We are hard workers, but we don’t have that expertise.”

Mold conditions are also “getting to where it’s dangerous” because of drywall, carpet and flooring that has been soaking for four weeks in floodwaters, some of which has been contaminated by raw sewage.

“We’re counseling with mold experts,” he said. “There are places we can’t send our missionaries or our volunteers — you have to have HAZMAT suits.”

Consequently, the missionaries are letting community members know that this period of full-time service in the community is coming to an end.

“As it looks right now, Dec. 8 will be our last day,” Calderwood said. “We’ll certainly continue to help as needed. But after Dec. 8, our missionaries will return full-time to their proselyting efforts.”

LDS-driven relief efforts in other areas of the eastern United States are making similar assessments. Andy Zmuda, an LDS stake high councilor who has coordinated relief efforts for the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake, said church officials are touring the area to see “how much more we can do as volunteers.”

“Sometime between now and the weekend before Christmas we’re going to reach the point where we have to step back and let the professionals take over,” Zmuda said.

Regardless of when the official LDS efforts end, the results will have been impressive. The church’s official Mormon Newsroom website indicated that as of Nov. 27, “more than 21,000 Mormon volunteers have provided nearly 197,000 hours of service.”

“Volunteers have included missionaries and church members from communities on the East Coast and as far away as Idaho and Utah,” the website article said, adding that the church has also “provided around 400,000 pounds of relief supplies so far, including food, water, blankets, hygiene kits, generators, pumps, tarps, cleaning supplies and fuel.”

Zmuda noted that the LDS Church efforts in New Jersey have been part of a concerted effort coordinated by Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters. LDS groups, Catholic Charities (for which Zmuda works professionally as director of asset development), the Zakat Foundation of America (a Muslim-run benevolent organization) and other faith-based relief efforts have been run through VOAD.

Calderwood said his missionaries have also worked closely with the American Red Cross in New York City, where their work has focused in the hard-hit Rockaway Peninsula of Long Island, in the borough of Queens. But he said there were many times his missionaries were the first ones on the scene to offer help to storm victims.

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