HOUSTON — A strong desire to help those affected by flooding in Texas recently motivated a handful of LDS Church members to travel long distances on their own dime to the Lone Star State.
On Sept. 21, Kelly Foss, media coordinator for the LDS Church public affairs in the Houston area, met a woman and her son from Vermont, a man from Pennsylvania and another man from Utah.
"They all had a natural inclination to do something to help. They had a window of opportunity to come but still had to sacrifice to get here, and when they got here they found it was nothing but hard work," Foss said. "Ultimately, they all had a Christlike inclination to serve their fellowman."
Karie Shelton and her son Brayden came to Houston from Rutland, Vermont. Prior to their coming, young Brayden organized a drive that collected almost 140 pairs of gloves. The mother and son spent most of their first day removing rotten walls in a home and hauling the debris out to the front yard. It's serious labor, but overall it was an experience they will never forget, they said.
"It's hard work, and it's hot," Karie Shelton said. "We just wanted to help out. It worked out that we could be here for a few days."
Scott Brown, of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, came down with a friend, Kevin Cook. When they met Foss, they had been in Houston for seven days. Both men had some time off from work and were motivated by the memory of helping do the same type of work in New York and New Jersey five years earlier after Hurricane Sandy.
"We just want to give these homeowners a sense of hope because they have lost everything," Brown said.
Curt James of Vineyard, Utah, has a son serving a mission in the Texas Houston South Mission. James sent an email to his son's mission president offering to help and was invited to come down.
For the record, James said, he has not seen or visited with his missionary during his time in Houston.
"We're keeping the rules. He knows I'm here, and I know he's here," James said. "He's doing good work and I'm trying to do good work, and we're busy trying to help these people."
These Latter-day Saints, like many others, were shocked by the magnitude of the problems found in Houston, but didn't shrink from what had to be done, Foss said.
"It's one thing when you see it on television and say, 'Those poor people.' But when you see it in person, you can feel it and smell it, it's hot and humid and you are immersed in the reality of this difficult situation ... You drive down the street and on both sides the sidewalks are covered with piles of debris stacked 7-feet tall. The floodwater has mixed with sewage and chemicals so it's nasty water and the smell is so bad. People work diligently to clean out the rotting material, the sheetrock and floor covering (in homes), the material breaks into pieces, the floor is wet and everything is nasty, dirty and grimy," Foss said.
"From my observation, these people didn't shy away from that. They didn't say this is hard and leave. They were truly committed and not deterred when they saw the reality of it."