From LA to FLA: Local group helps ‘Michael’ victims

Published 4:57 am Wednesday, November 14, 2018

“Hurricane Michael was the worst wind storm I’ve ever seen,” shared retired Coast Guard member, Larry Perkins, as men from the Bogalusa congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped remove huge fallen pine trees from his property in Panama City, Fla., on Saturday, Oct. 27.

The crew of nine experienced Bogalusa fathers and sons was part of over 2,700 volunteers from the church in five states volunteering weekly in the Florida panhandle since the storm.

“I know it’s a big deal to organize volunteers, and to come in these first few days after the storm when the people are so devastated, just sitting dumbstruck thinking, ‘Where do we start?’” expressed Perkins, “These volunteers give us energy.”

The men from Bogalusa provided lots of energy, as Will Talley from Sun operated his family’s big 28-foot telehandler machine, picking up huge logs and debris from Perkins’ one-acre tree-covered lot and hauling it to the curb. Will’s father, Fenon Talley, uses this equipment to clear land for their family business.

“We worked Friday until late, so we didn’t leave until midnight, when we loaded up and drove through the night,” Will Talley said. “We slept in the back of the fire truck we brought for hauling our heavy equipment. I’ve been doing these cleanups for 27 years from Mississippi tornados to Baton Rouge floods.”

The crew put in full days Saturday and Sunday for two straight weekends and planned to go again, doing work they could have been paid for, but instead they did as volunteers.

Perkins appreciated the work this Bogalusa crew did, saying, “To have a crew like this here is amazing! The young man operating that equipment, he knows what he is doing. It’s very smooth. That shows how talented he is.”

Keeping his boys busy using chain saws on the giant fallen trees, William Freeman of Bogalusa worked alongside his three sons, Patrick, Jeff, and Chris.

“Well, we went to Katrina, and we had a lot of people going out and doing this kind of work, so we came to Florida to pay them back,” Freeman said.

Panama City homeowner Doreen Gelbert, was especially grateful for the Freemans’ work, because her elderly father had a stroke while trying to clean up a few days after Hurricane Michael hit.

“He had a mini-stroke,” said Gelbert, “and it’s a blessing he is doing really well, but he could not get out here and move these trees. I just really appreciate y’all!”

The youngest crew member, 13 year-old Bowling Green High School student Andrew Taylor, described his job: “I’m in charge of dragging limbs out of the houses and yards, getting people tools, and keeping gas in the chain saws.”

On Oct. 20 and Oct. 27, Taylor camped on a baseball field in Callaway, Fla., with his father and other church volunteers, so they could serve. Sometimes work can be fun, explained Andrew, as he said, “I like demolishing trees too!”

Andrew’s father, Jarett Taylor of Franklinton, added, “I wasn’t going to come but my wife, she told me if I didn’t, something was going to happen. So I said ‘Yep, we’re going!’

“It’s just been an awesome experience! This is my second or third one, and I won’t miss another one!”

Despite the 1,700 work orders completed by volunteers last weekend, there is plenty of work still to do with over 12,000 calls from homeowners needing assistance recorded and ready for volunteer groups to help. Church members plan to continue for several more weekends.

“If this isn’t a testament or proof that Heavenly Father is working on behalf of everybody…if they don’t get it by now, people just won’t get it at all,” Taylor said. “So, we got it.”

LDS Charities donated many truckloads of food and supplies from its storehouses in Salt Lake City, Utah, and in Atlanta, Ga. Latter-day Saints Helping Hands Volunteers from the church volunteer their time, and travel at their own expense and provided relief using many of their own tools including chain saws, trailers, trucks and more. Over 13,000 church volunteers from 10 southern states, including Florida, gave aid after the 2016 Louisiana floods.

President Michael Dohm, leader of the Northshore area congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Bogalusa, expressed his appreciation for the volunteers.

“The aftermath of Hurricane Michael has provided another opportunity for us to use our helping hands in an organized relief effort,” Dohm said. “I am so humbled by the willingness of our members as they put their lives on hold to go to the rescue of our neighbors in Florida.

“These men and women as well as youth know firsthand what it is like to experience the devastation caused by these storms. So we come with our bright yellow shirts hoping to be a ray of hope to those in need with our attitude and with our labor.”