Mormon Helping Hands Volunteers Serve at Fort McMurray

Family working in the Garden

29 AUGUST 2017 - Fort McMurray, Alberta

More than a year after a massive wildfire evacuated their community, people in Fort McMurray are still trying to get things back to normal. On August 19, 2017, a group of 180 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the Sherwood Park Alberta Stake helped with a variety of service projects in the area.

About 50 volunteers who live in the area joined members of the Church from Sherwood Park, Lloydminster, Tofield, Cherry Grove, Vermilion and Fort Saskatchewan. Some had travelled almost 600 kilometres to be there.

Members of the Sherwood Park Alberta Stake, including stake president Robert Mendenhall, repaint the exterior of the Fort McMurray Royal Canadian Legion. ©Courtesy of Leon Bevans
Building a fence
At a home provided by Habitat for Humanity, Mormon Helping Hands volunteers build a fence. ©Courtesy of Leon Bevans
Old locomotive
Volunteers help polish up an old locomotive at Heritage Village in Fort McMurray, Alberta. ©Courtesy of Leon Bevans
Painting picnic tables
Picnic tables were repaired and painted at Fort McMurray Heritage Shipyard. ©Courtesy of Leon Bevans
Cleaning grounds
Mormon Helping Hands volunteers clean the grounds at the Fort McMurray Heritage Village and Heritage Shipyard properties. ©Courtesy of Leon Bevans

The projects included doing finishing work on a Habitat for Humanity house, cleaning heritage sites, weeding, repainting at the Fort McMurray Royal Canadian Legion and building furniture at a family resource centre.

Organizer and Church member Brian Lokhorst and his family were some of those evacuated during the wildfire in May 2016. While many of the members in the local Wood Buffalo Ward are still dealing with their own rebuilding, Lokhorst said they were heartened when the rest of their Sherwood Park Alberta Stake membership, living over 400 kilometres to the south, responded so enthusiastically.

Church members travelled up on the Friday night to be ready to work Saturday morning. “We got permission for people to camp on the lawn at the church, a few [others] were in campers in the parking lot, and other people billeted or stayed in hotels,” said Lokhorst.

An Edmonton funeral home donated the use of a bus and took care of costs for the driver and fuel.

Dozens of volunteers wearing yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests showed up at the Fort McMurray Heritage Village and Heritage Shipyard. Executive director Roseann Davidson was thrilled with the help they received.

“Overall it was just a fantastic day,” Davidson remarked. “When they first arrived, I was overwhelmed by how many people there were. We thought we were completely prepared with supplies and a job list, but these folks were so fast it was impossible to keep up.”

Participant Bryan Wood of Sherwood Park said, “There wasn’t a sad face throughout the day. No complaints. Everyone was willing and able. Because we had so many people, the work went quickly. It was great.”

Tiffany Low of Lloydminster helped Habitat for Humanity by rebuilding a fence. “It felt awesome to work side by side with so many others. The wildfire tragedy became more real when seeing the aftereffects of it. I loved bringing joy and happiness to others through giving service,” she commented.

At the Fort McMurray Royal Canadian Legion, grounds were cleaned up and the outside of the building was repainted. Executive commander Rudy Sookbirsingh thanked the crew: “Please accept our humblest, deepest appreciation and gratitude for your assistance with the great work you and your volunteers provided with helping us to beautify our legion.”

Kristi Bennett, a Sherwood Park Mormon mom of five, helped out by painting, weeding and sweeping the parking lot at the legion. One of her children went through a health trial recently. “So many people helped our family when our child had cancer, so [helping at the legion] seemed like the right thing to do,” she said. “We were paying it forward. It was great to see the joy in people’s eyes when you finished.”