Although serving in a disaster zone is never convenient, disasters create unique opportunities to serve and can bring out the best in people.
The recent fires in the Blue Mountains saw over 200 people lose their homes within the boundaries of Penrith Stake, making it one of the worst bush fires in Australia.
Many members served directly in emergency services working around the clock to protect homes, and stop the fires from spreading.
One mother, Collette Spiller, has five of her sons plus her husband in a key local Rural Fire Service unit at one of the largest fire fronts. When asked how she feels about having so many of her family in danger she replied, “My wedding anniversary was on the eve of the worst day of the fires. I was grateful to have my husband out there with five of our boys, learning what ‘service before self’ was all about. That was an anniversary gift in itself.”
The fires also saw one of the largest fire fighting crews assembled, estimated to be in the thousands. One of the challenges with having so many emergency workers, was working out how to feed them.
Loren, Leura Ward Young Women’s President, was having dinner with her husband early on in the campaign when they got talking to some ‘firies’ in a take-away food restaurant. “They looked really tired and they mentioned they hadn’t really had anything to eat all day. That got us thinking… maybe the Church could help!”
Within 18 hours, Emu Plains, Leura and Penrith Wards had prepared and delivered over 300 lunches to crews in need. ‘Sandwich Sunday’ took on a new dimension for members of Penrith Ward who prepared sandwiches for their usual after-church-luncheon, only to donate them to the emergency effort.
Keen to lend a helping hand, members of the Penrith Stake relief society volunteered by cooking in an emergency centre kitchen set up to help feed fire fighters.
Stake Relief Society President Sister Evo Taupau, said, ‘When I spoke to RFS catering they were in a panic wondering where they would find volunteers at such short notice. The very next day we had sisters within the stake go out and cook meals for hundreds of firefighters.’
Only 16km from the fire front, sisters from the stake worked around the clock to help prepare food, which was then shipped out to the front line or gladly eaten in the temporary Katoomba emergency centre. “They could not stop thanking us all week, and it was great to build relationships with people in our community through a simple act of service. As saints we tend to have the natural ability to immediately reach out and serve, especially during a time like this”, she said.
Young men from Baulkham Hills Stake also helped prepare homes and clean yards to mitigate the ensuing bushfire front. Even a ‘sock drop’ (delivering clean socks to fire fighters) was implemented by some members during the campaign.
Many other stories are still being echoed in the communities of the Blue Mountains of ‘Mormon Helping Hands’ in yellow bibs who gave aid to victims and emergency workers. The Church now has a connection with those officials co-ordinating the emergency efforts who will call upon us in future emergency relief efforts.