While most LSU students were enjoying a vacation, 42 students and eight adult volunteers from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry spent the week before Christmas ripping out debris from homes on Staten Island, N.Y., flooded by Hurricane Sandy.
The students also were putting smiles on some faces of residents who have only known misery since the storm struck Oct. Steve 28 and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and businesses along the East Coast.
“I’m beyond thankful for what the students have done today,” Staten Island homeowner Joe Piazza told trip organizers in a follow up report. “The work they’ve done would have taken me months by myself, and they did it with such joy in their hearts it is contagious.”
The LSU students were a small contingent of a larger “Hurricane Sandy Collegiate Blitz,” of more than 500 students from 21 states organized by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. The blitz, focused on Staten Island, began in early December and continues until the end of January.
Sandy’s surge reached hundreds of yards into ocean side neighborhoods and the damage seems endless, said Steve Masters, director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
“Every home and every business in the area was damaged and shut down,” Masters said. “They had 15 to 20 feet of storm surge where we were at. It just wiped everything out. We’d come in and tear up the carpet, tear out the flooring (and) tear out the sheet rock so the home owner can rebuild.”
In many homes the students had to tear up the floorboards to expose muddy water in basements that had to be pumped out. Southern Baptist officials reported that last week’s big snowstorm caused many of those homes to flood again.
The last thing the students did in each home, Masters said, was to spray the exposed framing with anti-fungal chemicals to prevent further mold growth, a task that required full Haz-mat suits and masks.
Photos taken by students showed piles of debris along residential streets. Windows are blown out and trees are stripped of all their leaves. Some trees are still down on buildings and lawns. The LSU chain-saw team cut up one dangerous tree that was hanging over a home.
As students helped residents clean out their debris and belongings, they had many chances to encourage them, Masters said.
“Several of the students talked about how they got to share Christ,” he said.
Lindsay Masters, the LSU BCM’s team’s project manager and minister of college and missions at Jefferson Baptist Church, said the students had good attitudes in spite of sleeping in tents and enduring the cold, rain and mold. They also learned how to cooperate and make group decisions to complete their tasks in a safe and efficient manner.
“A lot of the students said the trip changed their lives. They realized when tragedy hits, they can be a blessing,” Lindsay Masters said. “They also realized they can live on a lot less than they do now.
“The media has moved on, but this is still happening,” Lindsay Masters said, explaining people on the East Coast are still experiencing disruption the storm brought. “They still need help.”
Reports students wrote of their experience revealed the depth of emotions and spiritual thankfulness.
“My life has been changed,” wrote Skylar Hollins, of Bastrop. “With every swing of the hammer, I wanted to let my life shine for Christ.”
“Just being able to stop the frivolous things of my everyday routine and help people who were in need was a good experience,” wrote Stephen Knight, a student from Monroe.
“Every person we helped was happy and always had a smile,” wrote J’Lexius Rodriguez, of New Orleans. “Every person I met said, ‘Thank you, and God bless you.’ ”
Alyssa Kimmell, of Shreveport, was charged with making arrangements with homeowners for the students to work there. She wrote, “Getting to call ahead and hear their voices fill with joy was such a blessing and encouragement.”
Steve Masters said Baptist Collegiate Ministry also had 30 students volunteering at the New York City Bowrey Missions homeless center from Dec. 8-15, and 18 other students volunteered Dec. 8-12 at Mission Arlington, another large homeless shelter in Arlington, Texas.
The Staten Island work was paid for by a $50 donation from each student and from the Louisiana Baptist Convention Disaster Relief fund and the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge’s Disaster Relief fund. Jefferson Baptist helped with volunteers, meals and a van, Steve Masters said.
“One of the reasons we do these trips is to help people,” Steve Masters said, “but a second thing that happens — and that I was excited about — is to see the relationships that occur. Students who didn’t know each other get connected with each other for life.”
The students also realize, Steve Masters said, that they don’t have to travel long distances to help people. “They said, ‘Hey, we can do things right here in Baton Rouge.’ ”