KINSTON, NORTH CAROLINA
A photojournalist who covered the Sept. 3 Church-sponsored service project that was organized to help folks impacted by Hurricane Irene in eastern North Carolina learned first-hand of the generosity of the Tar Heel State's service-minded members.
The man was accompanying a local Church public affairs specialist on a tour of the various work sites. After finishing his work, the photographer pulled the member aside and mentioned that he had four felled trees in his own yard, then added that he'd been so busy covering the hurricane that he didn't know how or when he would be able to clear the debris. A short time later a dozen men from the Durham North Carolina Stake arrived at the man's front door, told him they were there to help and commenced to clear the trees from his yard.
With tears in his eyes, the photographer pointed to the Durham men sporting yellow "Mormon Helping Hands" T-shirts and said, "Those are men of God. They are doing the Lord's work."
That was just one of many grateful accounts from people living in communities such as Kinston and Harkers Islands whose Irene-caused burdens were lightened through the organized efforts of local members. The Sept. 3 service project included 300 volunteers from congregations from Apex, Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville. The majority spent the day clearing debris and fallen trees in Kinston, while dozens more provided service on Harkers Island, a region rich in Church history.
In all, the LDS volunteers performed more than 1,800 hours of service.
Meanwhile, two tractor-trailers from the Church Bishops' storehouse in Tucker, Ga., near Atlanta, delivered food, water, tarps, generators, chain saws, hygiene kits and buckets to the affected areas.
The violence of the hurricane was evident in Kinston more than a week after Irene's unwelcome visit. Fallen trees, downed power lines and debris still litter the streets. But the efforts of several hundred LDS volunteers helped restore hope in the aftermath of the storm.
Many of the people served during the project will not soon forget the efforts of the many strangers who arrived at their battered yards and commenced their relief work. One 83-year-old woman had been praying for two days that the Lord would send someone to help her. She stood speechless when a crew of eight men walked to her door and asked if they could be of assistance. When the crew finished their clean-up work the elderly woman came outside, took each man by the hand and asked if they would join her in prayer. She thanked God for sending the men to her door during a time of desperate need.
A "Helping Hands" crew in another section of town was enlisted to help remove a massive felled oak that blocked the front door of a woman's mobile home. After the men cut and cleared away the tree the home owner thanked the members for their service and gave each a hug before they drove off to complete their next work order.
The Sept. 3 clean-up project received coverage from the local newspaper and television station and earned lifelong friends for the Church.
Kinston North Carolina Stake President David Walker told the Kinston Free Press that the service project helped many realize that Church members were fellow members of their community who could be counted on in tough times.
"Regardless of religion or if someone is poor or rich, we are all God's children," said President Walker. "It is our duty to ease the suffering of another."
The efforts to help folks affected by Hurricane Irene are expected to continue in North Carolina. A work crew from the Kinston stake will be in the neighboring community of Washington on Sept. 10 to perform humanitarian assistance and help however needed.