News Release

Latter-day Saint Volunteers Aid in Florida Hurricane Cleanup

More than a thousand volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in Florida on Saturday, September 2, 2023, to help residents in the hard-hit communities along the state’s Big Bend area clean up from Hurricane Idalia.

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The hurricane hit on the morning of Wednesday, August 30, as a Category 3 storm, and damage to the region is estimated at $9 billion in property loss. 

John and Pam Horton’s home in Suwannee, Florida, was devastated by a storm surge of more than five feet that covered most of their possessions in mud. The Hortons evacuated ahead of the storm and rode out the hurricane with family in Georgia. When they returned home, they were overwhelmed by what they found. 

“We just didn’t know how we were going to do this by ourselves,” Horton said. 

One of the many groups of volunteers came from a congregation in Gainesville, Florida, and included Norman Beatty and his family. The group removed water-logged furniture, mucked out mud and debris from the home, and Beatty climbed on the roof to cut down a tree that had fallen during the storm. 

Beatty said he serves because it is what the Savior would do. “This is my community, and these are my brothers and sisters and I love them,” he said. 

Other groups of volunteers worked on clearing the many trees that were felled during the storm. 

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In Fanning Springs, Florida, a group of missionaries joined with Jimmy Perryman, a Latter-day Saint leader from nearby Chiefland,  and a handful of his congregation, to remove a very large tree that had fallen across the property of Brad and Lanette Six.

Despite the damage, Six said he felt that he and his wife had been protected during the storm and were grateful for the help to clean it up.

Elder Landon Berning, a missionary from Kaysville, Utah, who is currently serving in Florida, was one of the many missionaries who helped remove the tree. “I really like doing service like this. It’s all volunteer work, and it’s all for Jesus Christ and for your neighbor. It’s the two great commandments,” he said. "The way you show people you love them is through helping, through serving,” added Six.

Volunteers from congregations across the Southeast will continue the cleanup efforts in the next few weeks.

Command Centers: Crucial in Cleanup Coordination

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a long history of preparing for natural disasters. When Hurricane Idalia hit, volunteers were ready to respond.

“The members here in the South know that hurricane response is part of what we do,” said Elder M. Andrew Galt, an Area Seventy. “All year long we are training the stakes to run command centers, we’re training them to prepare for storms.”

Elder Galt is a regional leader of the Church in the southeastern United States. As part of his assignment, he oversees groups of congregations called stakes and helps organize the volunteer effort.

Elder Galt said the teams of volunteers are busy all year and are always looking ahead to whatever comes next. “This is an early storm,” he said. “We could very likely have another one. We’re planning on another one. We just don’t know where and when yet.”

During Labor Day weekend, Latter-day Saint volunteers from nine stakes (a group of up to 12 congregations) in Florida and Alabama joined 116 others who staffed command centers to coordinate needed relief. This included the delivery of three semi-trailers loaded with relief supplies, the completion of 759 work orders and 2,457 crisis cleanup calls. Overall, 1,734 volunteers gave 28,772 hours of service.

Tiffanie Buchman was one of the dozens assigned to staff a command center in Chiefland, Florida, where they managed the constant flow of incoming requests from the community for help.

The work is physically demanding. “They muck out houses, they cut down the trees, they pick up the debris,” Buchman said.

In the end, she said the volunteers’ goal is to show love and give people hope.

Lyla Tucker traveled from Panama City to Perry, Florida (about 145 miles or 233 kilometers east), with her family to help clear trees and debris. Tucker said it is an annual tradition for her family to volunteer after a hurricane hits. They’ve been doing it for the past four years.

“I’ll be honest — it’s fun,” she said. “I love it. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”

Jared Ure came with a group of volunteers from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and spent the entire first weekend cutting down and clearing fallen trees. Ure acknowledged the sacrifice but said, “It’s really enjoyable to come down and directly serve someone.”

In the coming weekend (September 15–17), four command centers will coordinate relief efforts of 26 stakes. More than 2,500 Latter-day Saint volunteers are anticipated. Relief efforts by the Church of Jesus Christ are expected to continue over the next month.

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