Perhaps the clouds that accompanied the many destructive storms of the 2004 hurricane season were indeed framed with a silver lining.
Residents of the island nations of the Caribbean and the U.S. Southeast surely wish Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne had passed them by. Still, the good hearts and volunteer spirits of thousands of members living in or near areas impacted by the storms delivered comfort to many and won new friends for the Church.
The ongoing, combined relief effort in the aftermath of the many hurricanes stands as a benchmark in the history of Church-sponsored humanitarian response, said Garry Flake, director of the Church's emergency response office. Some 310,000 volunteer labor hours were donated by Church members during the historic hurricane season.
"I don't think we've ever had that high of volunteer hours," said Brother Flake.
The scope of the Church's 2004 hurricane response effort will be counted among similar humanitarian responses during the 1999 refugee crisis in Kosovo and following Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998.
Beyond the hundreds of thousands of LDS volunteer labor hours, the Church donated to hurricane victims some 1.5 million pounds of food; 350,000 hygiene kits and 400,000 pounds of clothing and shoes. Such generosity did not go unnoticed. Church headquarters have been flooded with mail from grateful relief recipients and several government leaders ranging from Florida Governor Jeb Bush to public welfare officials in the Caribbean have thanked the Church and its members.
Even as bishop's storehouses throughout the U.S. Southeast were being replenished, the work of providing relief in the Caribbean island nations continued.
While life is "substantially back to normal," in Jamaica, the Church is providing additional assistance to Grenada, where some 90 percent of all homes were damaged by Hurricane Ivan, Brother Flake said. Shipments of plastic sheeting used to patch roofs have augmented prior Church humanitarian shipments to the island.
Meanwhile, the day-to-day task of caring for LDS storm victims in Haiti continues.
At press time, about 200 members from the Gonaives Branch in northern Haiti were still living in a tent city neighboring the St. Marc's Branch meetinghouse (See Oct. 2, 2004, Church News, page 7). The Church recently provided a follow-up shipment of medical supplies, clothing and shoes for LDS victims and others. Local priesthood leaders were authorized to buy food in country for the displaced Gonaives members, Brother Flake said.
Most of the Gonaives members will likely be able to return to their flooded cinder block homes in the coming weeks. The Gonaives meetinghouse, which was inundated with several inches of mud and water, is also expected to be salvaged.
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