Gleaming shelves filled with new books for all levels of young readers highlighted the celebration of the new Deweyville school library. Because of severe flooding, the former library and all its contents were destroyed. In response, the Masons and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated the new shelves and books, a lasting gift to the community.
In March of 2016, the flooding of the Sabine River devastated the small town of Deweyville, Texas. The flood was the worst in recorded history; according to local officials, the flow of water at peak flood stage was twice the volume of the water that flows over Niagara Falls. The community was completely inundated except for a few areas on a small bluff on the west side of the community, and as with most river floods, the water was contaminated with waste and chemicals. Many homes and buildings had to be abandoned, including the town’s library. The old library was immediately closed and all its flooded contents were condemned.
In response to the disaster, 1,300 Church members from the surrounding area arrived for immediate remediation, wearing Mormon Helping Hands shirts. The following weekend, 600 more came to help the town’s residents.
According to Sterling Pack Jr., the Church's area welfare specialist and the Houston region disaster response coordinator, “LDS members and full-time missionaries responded to help muck out individual’s homes and local churches and provide support to the community, including Easter baskets for children in the neighboring town of Bon Wier.” According to Pack, “Because of the geographic and administrative organization of the LDS Church, rapid response is possible that isn’t found anywhere else.”
This loss of the Deweyville library was of especially great concern to the community, as the local schools needed an approved library in order to maintain their accreditation. To compound the problem, other reparation demands meant that no funding was immediately available to replace the library.
Because of the unique circumstances of the Deweyville flood, the Church decided to go one step beyond cleanup in helping this small community. “We can muck out a house and do the cleanup work and then the house is empty. Here we were able to put books back [in the library] and serve the next generation,” said Pack.
“When the kids come in their eyes light up — they are delighted to see new books,” said Elizabeth “Liz” Whitfield, who runs the library. Through LDS Charities a complete library set of 7,200 new books, including required reading and kid favorites, were ordered from Follett Corporation. Supplemented by local donations, the library's collection now boasts over 10,000 books for the 268 local children and their families to enjoy. Noting that many of the flood-destroyed books had been old, Whitfield said, “After all we’ve been through, things are now better than before.”
Deweyville Schools Superintendent Kevin Clark was also present at the "thank you" celebration. “There were so many different organizations, school districts, faith-based organizations that provided supplies for our teachers, many who had lost their own homes. The outpouring of support has been all about the kids. Disaster brings out the best in people, it renews your faith in mankind,” Clark said as he expressed appreciation for the LDS Church’s participation.
Sterling Pack recieved a recognition plaque on behalf of the Church, presented by district head librarian Cheryl Inboden. “We cannot tell you how much we appreciate everything that you have done,” Inboden said. “This library would not be here with the books in it without you all. So we thank you all so very much.”
Daniel Harris, president of the local Orange Texas Stake, noted the long-lasting effects of the disaster relief. “There were many stories of improved relations. Nothing will help that more than service,” Harris said.
The LDS Church involvement in the Deweyville area underscores the Church's basic tenets of cooperative, coordinated service and freedom of religion. “There is enough belief in our common humanity that we can work side by side and not be critical or judgmental of each other’s faith traditions,” Pack said.