The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gulfport members have joined the 2,500 branch affiliates that have been helping clear the Hurricane Michael destruction in the Tallahassee and Panama City areas over the last three weeks.
“We worked all day, and 12-hour days,” said Brandon Hoer, a Gulfport church member who volunteered in Tallahassee on October 13 and in the Panama City area on October 14. “My arms have never been more sore.”
According to the church, it has about 16 million members in the United States. Members within a six- to seven-hour drive of the Panama City area have been volunteering since Hurricane Michael hit Florida on October 10.
On October 13, 17 local members made the drive north following the destruction. Church members have continued to go on their own accord, driving their personal vehicles each weekend since, said organizers. The latest trip was on Saturday, October 27.
“You can only do so much,” said Joanne Schiff, a Gulfport church member and volunteer. “We really focused on the critical needs of the people.”
The volunteers’ primary mission is to move large objects, clear trees and branches out of people’s yards and repair victim’s homes.
“You feel guilty leaving all that,” Schiff said. “But we did all that we could do, it’s very sad.”
The weekend of October 13, a resident in the Panama City area and church member donated his field to the hundreds of volunteers that were staying overnight in the structurally devastated area.
“Every natural disaster that happens, our church will send out their members,” said Hoer. “These are regular people who volunteer and donate because we really feel like that’s what Jesus Christ would do.”
Brandon and Julia Hoer were one of the hundreds that camped in the field before dedicating another day to clearing people’s homes.
“We were able to help a lot of people,” Hoer said. “There are massive trees that have fallen and structural fixing that needs to be done.”
Church members plan to continue driving north to help the victims of the hurricane.
“The people were very, very grateful,” said Joanne Schiff. “We always say a prayer and sing a song before we go because we want to bring them comfort.”