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Loving and Lifting Lismore Communities After Major Floods

“The willing support of our members has lifted others and provided practical help in inspiring ways" — Daniel Shine, Gold Coast Australia Stake President

Every February, many congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across Australia and the South Pacific take part in community service activities. February is called “Come and Help Month” by Latter-day Saints across the region. It’s an opportunity to identify a need, make a plan, and invite a relative or friend to “come and help.”

The last weekend in February was supposed to be the Gold Coast Australia Stake’s “Come and Help” service project. A stake is a group of congregations in a geographical area.

Due to recent wild weather and flash flooding in Southeast Queensland it was postponed.

The following weekend (5-6 March), however, members of the Gold Coast Stake were able to truly take up the call to “Come and Help” their fellow Church members in Lismore.

After the city was hit with the worst flooding on record, Stake leaders contacted local leaders in Lismore and identified families within the ward (congregation) and within the community who were in dire need.

On the evening of Thursday 3 March, a call was put out to members asking for donations that were able to be dropped to the Stake Centre the following day. That Friday saw hundreds of members, friends from neighbouring Coomera Stake and community members, desperate to help in some way, delivering much needed items, well into that night and again early the following morning.

“The generosity was so great!” said one Church member. “We initially thought we would only need a trailer, there were so many donations that we had to look for a truck.”

The use of a bus was also donated, to fit everything into, along with trailers and vehicles full of supplies and tools for the clean-up. Those who couldn’t travel down to Lismore to clean made food for families and volunteers, and helped with cleaning the vehicles when they returned.

Volunteering Gold Coast donated use of three 11-seater vans to transport volunteers to Lismore. MAA (Muslim Aid Australia) donated boxes of antibacterial wipes. A Gold Coast caterer, Main Event Catering, donated their truck to take all the donations down. A Church member donated a 24-seater bus for transporting items.

According to one participant, “The community support was unbelievable. It truly was a community effort.”

After a prayer for safety and guidance, a small army left the Gold Coast and departed for Lismore at 7.30 am Saturday 5 March.

When they arrived, the streets of Lismore looked like a warzone to the volunteers, with overturned vehicles, and caravans lodged in trees. Many towns along the way were also badly affected.

Donations were unloaded into the Lismore Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. Items were separated into different rooms. The chapel itself was filled with food, bread, water, cleaning products, baby items and clothing. Another room was stocked with toiletries and medical supplies. Another filled with linen, towels, bedding and children’s toys.

Much needed fuel was also donated along with air mattresses and tarps.

The meetinghouse kitchen was overflowing with warm meals, cakes, slices and sandwiches to feed the families and volunteers for the day. Lismore Ward leaders said they were expecting a tenth of what actually arrived.

The volunteers separated into groups, and for the rest of the day, geared with gumboots and gloves, they got to work.

Helpers assisted in the enormous task of removing wreckage and debris, then washing and cleaning mud out of waterlogged houses. Very little was salvageable.

The streets were filled with volunteer vehicles from other faith and community groups, and individuals wanting to help.

“It was heart-warming to see so many rally around those in need,” said one helper.

Thousands of volunteers could be seen all over the town. Some travelled hours to be there, with utes and trailers filled with water and other supplies.

One young volunteer with a small truck loaded with over 600 litres of fuel drove around Lismore offering fuel to any homes that needed it.

Many of the volunteers were from the Gold Coast Stake’s congregation for young adults. “They were so willing to assist,” one older Church member observed.

C.J. Taulepa, 26, said, “Driving into Lismore today, I couldn’t believe this was Australia. I have never seen anything this bad in my life, it was heartbreaking.”

One of the families in Lismore Ward who lost everything when flood-waters reached the roof of their home, the Stokes family, were overwhelmed by the love and attention shown to them.

Due to the enormity of the donations received by Lismore Ward, Church leaders have decided to open the chapel to the wider community to access supplies. Local radio stations were contacted to get the word out to those in need.

Gold Coast Stake Relief Society President, Sister Penny Owen, has chosen to change their Relief Society Anniversary Activity on 12 March to a family service day in Lismore. The clean-up is going to take weeks or months.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to serve where our efforts are so needed,” Penny Owen said. “We feel that responding to Sister Eubank’s challenge we are celebrating this 180 year-old Relief Society: ‘What better way to honour its mission of extending the pure love of Jesus Christ into the world, than by joining a service project in your community.’”

Newsroom contributor: Marina Taulepa

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