SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As wildfires have raged across the Western United States this season, volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have stepped up to help the thousands displaced by the fires.
Millions of acres have burned in California, Oregon, and Washington. More than two dozen people have died in the wildfires and in Oregon, ten people have lost their lives. The fires destroyed 2,350 homes on Sept. 8 near Medford, Oregon.
A Latter-day Saint meetinghouse was used as a shelter briefly before the Jackson County Fair and Expo Center opened its doors to evacuees.
Saturday morning, members of the Medford and Central Point Oregon Stakes gathered for a service project to help those who had lost their homes. Members grabbed their ‘Helping Hands’ shirts, N95 face masks, and fire kits and began to help families sift through the ashes of their property to find anything left that was of value.
Missionaries from the Church showed up at the Expo to assist with the needs of those who were evacuated from their homes. Over 2,000 people showed up to the Expo for assistance the first night.
Expo director Helen Funk was impressed when the missionaries showed up at the Expo to serve the community.
“We didn’t ask formally anywhere for [the missionaries]; they just came,” said Funk. “They truly made a difference.”
The full-time missionaries filled many needed roles during the evacuations, including running the Expo’s main office.
“They were answering the phone for the Expo and they were answering people’s questions, and I walked in, I turned around and looked at all the desks and everybody was covered with their PPE, and everybody was doing all the right things and [I] thought, ‘praise the Lord,’ and turned around and walked back out the door,” said Funk of the missionaries.
The Expo is now winding down its emergency operations. A Red Cross shelter there remains open.
“With COVID right now and with the destruction that has happened to this area because of the fires and the missionaries’ involvement with the service, they’ve met so many people that the community knows who they are, at a different level,” said President Dean Cropper, second counselor in the Oregon Eugene Mission presidency.
“The main reason they are out here is to teach about the Savior and His gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.