Before the rain from Hurricane Harvey even fully stopped, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Houston Texas stake quickly sprang into action. They started the difficult task of cleaning out countless flooded homes. It’s a job many are still doing daily nearly three weeks after the storm first made landfall.
As the water was still receding, a member of the West University Ward, Julie Stanger, went on a jog to check on families in the neighboring Herman Park Ward on Tartan Lane where she knew some homes were inundated with water. After seeing the devastation in that neighborhood, she ran home, jumped in her car and headed out to check on others.
“When I went to a house that had been flooded and found a young mother with three children, who is eight months pregnant, trying to clean out her home with only her husband to help her, I knew we would have to move fast,” said Stanger, a corporate attorney with Chevron and legal representative on the company’s emergency response team.
“They are our friends,” Stanger said. “If their homes hadn’t flooded, they’d be the ones out there helping others. We wanted to be their hands.”
Stanger immediately created a command post using a thrown-out table from a flooded home as her makeshift desk in the front yard of a home on Tartan Lane – a hard-hit neighborhood by the overflowing Braes Bayou.
“Volunteers started arriving only two hours after we sent out a call for assistance,” Stanger said. “It was a grass roots effort. Every day, more and more people arrived… We had volunteers from St. Anne Catholic Church, the Rice University Football Team, Tzuchi Foundation and other organizations. One of my work colleagues drove down from The Woodlands.”
Missionaries, members and those of other faiths worked together to muck the homes of friends, neighbors and strangers regardless of their religion. Those in the community quickly became familiar with the “Mormon Helping Hands” volunteers wearing the yellow shirts.
Over Labor day weekend and the weekends that followed, LDS church services have been abbreviated to only one hour to give members the opportunity to go out and serve in organized teams in various areas throughout the city. New requests continue to come in as the water is still receding in some communities.
The Tartan Lane Command Post worked in at least 130 homes over just the first seven days – often with fifteen or more crews of about ten people out working at any given point. Those numbers are just a fraction of the homes served by members of the Houston Texas Stake and numerous other stakes throughout the area.
One of the “Mormon Helping Hands” volunteers came from California. Nancy Kraus is a nurse and flew to Texas to help with relief efforts. She expected her skills to be needed at a shelter, but found her calling on Tartan Lane.
Bishop Steve Crawford, who also flooded, alerted Stanger and Kraus about a single woman across the street from him who hadn’t been home since the storm. When Grace Duan arrived back on her street, Kraus wrapped her arms around her. Kraus walked with Duan through her home as she saw for the first time how the water had tossed around her furniture and so many of her belongings.
Volunteers carried out heavy, flood-soaked furniture, tore out moldy dry wall and flooring, ripped up tile and wood floors – as well as tried to comfort the hearts of many who lost nearly everything.
“Even more important was the unity we all — volunteers, people who were flood victims, and neighbors — felt as we helped each other through this crisis,” Stanger said. “We are brothers and sisters.”