“Our experience through the years has been that people really want to help in times of crisis, but they don’t really know how to respond,” Graves said. “So they start rushing in with food and clothes and water, and pretty soon you have more than you need and you have an impediment because you have to figure out how to deal with all of that.
“By working with VOAD,” he continued, “we know exactly what is needed and we can provide help that really makes a difference in people’s lives.”
The Rev. Crowder’s objective is the same, although his approach is decidedly more intimate. It was born two years ago, when six members of his family lost their homes in a similar tornado in his hometown of Joplin, Mo. At the time, he gathered donations of clothing, food and money and hurried to Joplin to minister what aid he could.
“Being on the ground within a week of the destruction, what I found was that people often just need the basics,” he told KSL’s Carole Mikita, indicating that the cash he gives victims is intended to pay insurance premiums, repair cars or meet whatever immediate needs they have.
“Sometimes they don’t have a place for a lot of clothes — they don’t even have a home anymore,” the Rev. Crowder said. “By giving them just a couple of hundred dollars, they can buy socks for their children or for themselves or whatever else they need.”
Meeting needs, both physical and spiritual, is Taylor’s objective as well, as he prepares the 168 young missionaries and 12 missionary couples he supervises to work under the direction of local church leaders for as long as they are needed.
“We have eight zones (an organizational unit usually consisting of 16-20 missionaries), and so we’ll probably rotate them in and out of the work area so they can have plenty of time to serve there and then plenty of time to return to their missionary work in the field,” Taylor said. “This is a time when faith needs to be built — and can be built — both through our service in the community as well as through our proselyting efforts.”
While the missionaries and other Latter-day Saints will be reaching out to all who have been impacted by the storms, their efforts will likely include service to a number of LDS families severely impacted by the storms. Graves said 13 families from the four LDS stakes in the Oklahoma City area lost their homes, and eight homes belonging to church members incurred minor damage. He spoke of one family that lost its large farm and more than 100 horses in the storm.
Thankfully, Taylor and Graves agreed, there has been no loss of life among LDS Church members and missionaries. “We were blessed,” Taylor said, noting that preparation played a key role in that blessing.
“We train our missionaries from the time they get here how to deal with severe weather — how to spot it, how to prepare for it, how to protect yourself from it,” Taylor said. “It’s an occurrence you can expect pretty regularly between the first of March and the end of June. So usually in the February zone conferences we get out all the training materials and review it with everybody. It’s a constant cycle of reminders and information.”
During the tornado season, the mission office monitors the weather closely and sends alerts out to particular companionships, districts or zones based on the forecasts. When severe weather hits, the missionaries all have a shelter to which they are assigned.
“Plus,” Taylor said, “the members really watch out for our missionaries. They are very protective and very good at getting them to take refuge when it’s time.”
KSL-TV's Carole Mikita contributed to this story.
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