As Hurricane Irma is getting closer to making landfall in Florida, a local church was returning from a trip to South Texas Saturday where it helped with Hurricane Harvey cleanup. Several members of the Grace Lutheran Church in Denison traveled to La Grange and other areas to assist locals in disaster relief.


The group of about 10 left Thursday and returned to North Texas Saturday afternoon.


“When you help, you are doing the Lord’s work,” Brenda Hantsche of the church said. “Anything that you can do helps. These areas have been ravished.”


In addition to the manpower, Grace Lutheran dropped off its disaster response trailer in Houston. The renovated trailer has shelves that were fully stocked with items to help in cleanups and with goods to give to those affected by disasters.


The church prepared more than 20 cleanup buckets to give to homeowners in Houston. The buckets included household cleaning supplies including mops and brooms.


“Today, we worked on a house that looked like it was completely destroyed,” Brenda Hantsche said on Friday. “It had to be gutted out. We had to pull the insulation from inside. The siding had to be pulled out. We power washed everything and bleached what we could. The house had been under 18 feet of water, the owner said.”


The houses that the Grace Lutheran group helped clean were near the Colorado River.


“We worked with an older couple that had recently remodeled their home,” Brian Hantsche said Saturday. “They were older and the house looked like it had been built in the late 1980s. We went through their bathroom and the closets. We removed the sheet rock and tile so that the house could start to dry out.”


Between the homeowners, their sons and the volunteers, there were probably about 10 people in the house, he said.


“It looked like there was about two to four feet of water,” Brian Hantsche said. “The looters came in just hours after the water had receded. These people that we were helping have been violated in more ways than one. The story just gets deeper and sadder for each of these families.”


Brian Hantsche said that his group was told that there were about 200-250 homes in that area that were affected and there were a lot of people that were in need of disaster relief.


“It hurt my feelings,” he said. “The man that we were working with Friday takes care of his mother. He works three jobs and he does not have insurance. He lost everything. I do not know how they will be able to rebuild. It will probably be one to two years before they can get back into their home. They probably need cash.”


He said that people are also in need of clothes.


“People’s stuff was in piles in front of their homes,” he said. “It’s people’s lives going into dumpsters. A lot of people are still in shock. They have to get to a somewhat clean manner so FEMA can even evaluate. They do not know what will be left.”


Jenny Stuart said it was really hard to see how much stuff had to be thrown away.


“The son that we helped Friday said that he was just glad that his mom was not there to watch all of their belongings go into the dumpster,” she said. “He was holding up well. He was worried about his neighbors.”


Stuart said that during her time in La Grange, she did not meet anyone that was negative.


“They love to hear that you are praying for them,” she said. “People do not have to do physical labor, they can help pass out meals or help sort donations. They can help provide encouragement and give these people emotional support.”


There are great differences between the areas that were affected by Hurricane Harvey and the areas that were not, the Hantsches said.


“The center of town and the grocery stores around the center look normal,” Brenda Hantsche said. “They look fine, but on the other side of town, it’s just bad. There will be months and months of cleanup. People have to live in hotels or with other family.”


The Grace Lutheran members stayed at Camp Lone Star, a Lutheran Church camp in La Grange.


“Anyone who would like to volunteer with disaster relief can stay there,” Brenda Hantsche said. “Each cabin sleeps 12 people. Also staying at the camp while we were there was the K-9 Comfort Team, which is a Chicago-based Lutheran group that includes about 20 comfort dogs.”


This is not the first time Grace Lutheran has assisted in disaster relief. The church also assisted in relief efforts after the Canton tornadoes in April.


“As far as what people need, everyone is different and each relief is different,” Brenda Hantsche said. “I think a lot of people need temporary housing. People are needing places to stay and clothing. They need towels, sheets, beds, pots and pans. People’s lives are starting over.”


Grace Lutheran’s work in the cleanup efforts is not over.


“Sunday after church, we will be cleaning out the trailer and restocking it so that we can go back really soon,” Brian Hantsche said.