Members of the Lake Nona Congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints traveled to South Florida on Sept. 17 as “Mormon Helping Hands.” They donned their iconic bright yellow t-shirts to help the people of Immokalee, a small farming community about 30 miles southeast of Fort Myers. The group of 20 adults and teens used chainsaws to cut up fallen trees and haul them to the curb for collection as well as other debris around people’s homes.
Northlake Park resident Scott Chapman said, “It was pretty bad. Roofs damaged, trees everywhere. The doors were open to let in the breeze, if there was a generator, it ran one fan with people sitting in front of it trying to stay cool. It was pretty sad seeing them that way.”
At one home, they cleared away a fallen fence and two large trees. The residents were a woman in her late 50s and her 90-year-old father. “They were very grateful. There was no way they could have done that for themselves,” Chapman said.
East Lake Park resident Mark Hahn helped clean up a 60-foot tree with a root ball so big they could not haul it away. The grandmother, mother and daughter in the house had watched the tree come down during the storm. The mother commented that she had never experienced trauma in her life, but if she had, it was watching that tree come down.
“It was really great seeing the people come together,” Hahn said. As the volunteers were eating dinner in the one fast-food restaurant in town, a man with three children came up and shook the hands of each volunteer and thanked them. Hahn asked if he needed anything, and the man asked them to just keep doing what they were doing. He told Hahn, “We don’t have much in Immokalee, but we have each other.”
This was evidenced by one local man who had gone to help his neighbors before taking care of his own house and was injured. The Mormon Helping Hands were able to clear the trees off his property while he was in the hospital. As the volunteers worked, local residents who saw them came out of their houses to join in. “It was great to see everyone working together,” Chapman said.
Chapman commented that the lower-income community “didn’t have any resources to help themselves. I knew these people could not do for themselves what we had done for them.”
The volunteers spoke about the joy of helping this community. “Everybody should have that opportunity at some point in their lives. It is a unique experience you won’t forget,” Hahn said.
Church members also helped closer to home in Rockledge and St. Cloud.