BETA

Helpers slosh through mud

Wearing 'Helping Hands' vests, members dig out anyone in need

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, CALIF.

When mudslides inundated the house of the first counselor in the La Crescenta California Stake presidency, the outpouring of help provided by fellow Church members was impressive. But it was only prelude to what happened the next day.

The Station Fire last August in the Angeles National Forest above this Southern California community had left barren hillsides that gave way after a period of heavy rains culminated with a deluge Friday night, Feb. 5.

Charles Woodhouse was awakened in the early hours Saturday morning by running water and mud. The mud was so deep that he could not leave the home. He made a phone call for help, which translated into e-mails sent throughout his stake. Soon, more than 100 people responded with shovels, wheelbarrows, brooms, sump pumps and heavy equipment to move and haul the mud away.

The group of volunteers mushroomed to more than 150.
The group of volunteers mushroomed to more than 150. Photo: Courtesy Greggory Devore

When the Church group saw the needs of his neighbors, they went to their homes and helped them, as well. The volunteers worked all day, digging out four homes in the cul-de-sac, with the last person leaving after 8 p.m.

In an e-mail he sent to stake members that night, President Woodhouse shared some of the comments from his neighbors: "One neighbor approached me and said, 'I love your Church.' Another said, 'I need to change religions.' And two neighbors said, 'I want to come visit your Church.' We were also able to give a Book of Mormon to one of the firemen."

Sunday morning, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Congressman David Dreier and others surveyed the aftermath of the flooding at the top of Ocean View Boulevard. Before a news conference, Congressman Dreier spoke with Church member Greg Brown, former mayor of La Canada Flintridge, and a current councilman. Brother Brown and the congressman talked to a single mother whose house and yard were filled with several feet of mud. Brother Brown told her that he felt certain that he could get a number of volunteers to help, knowing that Church volunteers had assisted the day before, cleaning up the aftermath of the mud flow at the Woodhouse home.

Grant Christensen, 79, was among the oldest volunteers helping clean up after mudslides. Other volunteers from the Church were as young as 10.
Grant Christensen, 79, was among the oldest volunteers helping clean up after mudslides. Other volunteers from the Church were as young as 10. Photo: Courtesy Greggory Devore

After leaving the news conference, Brother Brown met with Stake President Jay P. Morgan who approved the plan to mobilize members to assist their neighbors. Monte Harrick, a La Canada Flintridge resident and a member of the La Crescenta Stake presidency, sent an e-mail to the entire stake and its leaders requesting that volunteers help dig out the hard-hit area. Less than three hours later, at 12:30 p.m., the first wave of volunteers met at the bottom of Ocean View Boulevard and put on yellow "Helping Hands" vests.

Having received permission from law enforcement, a caravan of cars drove to the top of Ocean View Boulevard. More than 90 members marched up a hill to three of the most severely damaged homes. They removed mud from the driveways, created paths to the front doors and removed furniture from the damaged homes.

As the members were working, other neighbors asked for assistance. The group of volunteers mushroomed to more than 150. Moving down the street, the members helped more than a dozen additional families.

Another 24 Church members, many of them young men, worked in a nearby neighborhood that had also sustained damage.

As the sun began to set, the last volunteer reported the neighbors cheering and thanking him for the assistance of Church members as his truck drove down Ocean View Boulevard.

Church members Floyd and Diana Walters, who live in the damaged area, stated in an e-mail to stake members: "This was truly the gospel in action. … One woman looked me in the eye and said, 'These people are angels, truly angels sent to help.' One teenager who lives up here was touched by the outpouring of people she did not even know coming to help and told her mother, 'This is so amazing. It makes me feel like crying.' Finally, a gentleman told me, 'You know what you people brought here today was much more than shovels and wheelbarrows. The most important thing you brought here was hope.' "

Wearing their "Helping Hands" vests, Church volunteers help dig a car out from under part of a house that collapsed in a mud slide.
Wearing their "Helping Hands" vests, Church volunteers help dig a car out from under part of a house that collapsed in a mud slide. Photo: Courtesy Greggory Devore

The assistance provided by Church members was widely reported in local and national media.

One Church volunteer, John Day, told a reporter that even though the Super Bowl was on TV at the time, he would rather be helping others than watching.