June 18, 2018 – At the end of the third inning of the baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the PA system blared: “We’d like to welcome our Group of the Game from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During Hurricane Harvey, there were as many as sixteen-thousand Mormon Helping Hands (MHH) volunteers working around Greater Houston each day and provided over one million man-hours of service. Thank you for your service!”
Nearly 5,000 church members, most wearing the MHH yellow shirts or vests went wild as the cameras panned across the cheering crowd, flashing it on the 124-foot-wide big screen.
Elder Sean Douglas, Area Seventy for the Houston Region said, “This night is not about us. This should be a recognition of everyone who participated in helping after Hurricane Harvey. This is a community that came together and put neighbors first. There were no boundaries. We get recognized for the yellow shirts and that’s an honor, but our yellow shirts really reflect all the denominations and sects in the community that stood up and came out. What we are doing tonight is saying ‘thank you’ to the Astros, saying ‘thank you’ to Houston, and ‘thank you’ to God for allowing us to be part of this.”
Tomball Texas Stake President Samuel Bikman, worked with Marcel Braithwaite, Matt Brand, David Piccirilli and Ryan Smith from the Astros’ front office in organizing the event. Although Braithwaite and Smith are members of the Church, Piccirilli said, “The entire front office wanted to have this night. What y’all did after Harvey was a group effort. It’s really cool to see everyone here.” “I am hopeful that people will associate us with service and helping. I want the message to go out of just serving, going out and helping people’s lives improve in any way possible,” Bikman said.
“Service is half of what we (the Astros organization) do,” added Smith. “A lot of the guys got involved when they got back to town after Harvey hit. They were over at the George R Brown Convention Center helping out, providing service and comfort. This group of guys are always trying to give back any way they can; a lot of the players have their own charitable foundations.”
Matt Brand, Houston Astros Senior Vice President, Corporate Partnerships said, “What the church did to come in and help the community was incredible… because if they hadn’t I can tell you thousands of people would have been put back for months and months, not only financially, but with a place to live. We had four-and-a-half feet of water in our house and I know what that feels like. I can’t tell you the impact that 16,000 people coming in every weekend had for this city.”
Twila Carter, Executive Director of the Astros Foundation, said, “I am a huge fan of what the LDS Church does!” The Church was also able to help her get two truckloads of supplies to needy people after Harvey.
The exhilaration of seeing the 2017 World Series Champions and the anticipation of watching a 12-game winning streak was not lost on the Morford family. They stood enthralled during batting practice eagerly waiting for yellow shirts to appear up in the stands. “It was fun to help people, even some of our friend’s houses and be a part of tearing out walls and clearing out from the flood for almost two weeks. It’s nice to get the message out that Mormons are good helpers,” said daughter Daphne with a shy smile.
A first pitch was thrown by Greg Bond, Bay City, Texas Stake President. “The experience was not about throwing out the ball but having a chance to talk to many people about MHH. I considered it an honor to represent all those that had helped in the community,” Bond said.
Added Bond, “As both members’ and neighbors’ homes were helped, “I saw over and over again a look of despair on people’s faces change to hope and thankfulness. I hope that good stories like MHH will encourage more people to help others.”
And…as the Astros won 5-4 in the bottom of the 9th inning, Minute Maid Park erupted in a flood all its own.