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Volunteers Aid in Valley View Tornado Cleanup

Valley View, TX — On May 25, 2024, a devastating EF-3 tornado struck Valley View, Texas, with winds of 135 mph, destroying nearly 400 homes and resulting in the tragic loss of seven lives. In the aftermath, Cooke County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) took the lead in organizing a comprehensive cleanup operation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints played a significant role in these efforts, rallying alongside the community to address the urgent needs for cleanup and recovery.

On June 8, over 1,000 volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ across North Texas gathered at Valley View High School football stadium. Donning yellow shirts and armed with tools such as gloves, chainsaws, and wheelbarrows, the volunteers were dispatched to nine zones in the hardest-hit areas to tackle the debris and wreckage spread across the town.

Lincoln Cooper and Robert Dittmer of Flower Mound assist with the Valley View tornado cleanup.

Together, the volunteers contributed 5,223 man-hours of labor. Their efforts were not only about clearing debris but also about healing a community in the wake of unprecedented destruction. Tom Badstubner, a member of the Church from Lewisville, shared the motivation behind their involvement: “This was a beautiful way to show our love for the Savior and our neighbor.”

Central to the cleanup operations was Evan Wolfenbarger, a 24-year-old Valley View native and member of The Church of Jesus Christ, whose personal story of the tornado’s impact and immediate response highlighted the night’s terror and the following week’s community spirit. “The whole sky was just neon green, like something out of a movie,” Evan described the eerie moments before the tornado struck. His account continued with the chilling sounds of destruction—wood snapping and metal twisting—as the tornado tore through his neighborhood.

Left to right: Linda Bird, Tom Badstubner, Evan Wolfenbarger, Lee Bird and Stephen Turley (back). Photo courtesy of Linda Bird.

As soon as the danger passed, Evan was among the first to venture out, checking on neighbors and coordinating rescue efforts. “It was clear from the beginning that our community would need all the help it could get. I knew we had to mobilize fast,” he said. His leadership and quick action were instrumental over the following days. Evan navigated the debris-littered streets by bike from dawn until dusk each day, assessing needs and organizing aid.

“The work is far from over,” he said, emphasizing the large scale of the destruction.

During the cleanup, volunteers made a meaningful discovery among the wreckage—a hymn book and a Bible found atop a pile of debris, opened to 1 John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” This find was not only remarkable given the circumstances but also served as a reminder of the day’s purpose and the broader community’s commitment to tangible acts of kindness and support.

A church hymn book and Bible sit open atop a pile of debris.

Calvin Griffin, stake president for The Church of Jesus Christ in Denton, also reflected on the spiritual impact of the service: “Very grateful to see so many allowing God to prevail as they served. The hands of God were evident as people cared and served as He would.”

The cleanup efforts were particularly poignant for younger volunteers. Caleb Andersen, a 13-year-old from Prosper, shared a touching story of finding a cherished item amid the wreckage for a grieving family. “That moment, finding something so valuable to someone who had lost so much, felt like a direct answer to prayers,” Caleb shared.

Youth groups from Lewisville and Lake Dallas canceled their scheduled summer camp to join the effort. Gehrig Dartt, 14, from Lewisville, reflected, “Helping made me want to help more as the Savior would. Talking to some of the people who experienced loss because of the tornado, I never could imagine the pain that they felt.”

On June 22, more volunteers from the Plano area made the trek to Valley View to help and “give more than they could spare” with cleanup efforts.

Bob Nine said he saw many nice people who had lost a lot in the storm. 

“My heart was filled with compassion that inspired me to endure the harsh elements and serve them. Some of the people had livestock that are missing,” he said. “Some can not get more livestock until all the debris is removed from their property. It made us feel good, like we were helping folks get their lives back and get back to normal.”

Multiple churches came together to lend a helping hand.

“While working we had a chance to get some free food provided by the Lutheran Church,” Nine said. “What a great feeling to be serving each other, and serving the Lord, regardless of our religious affiliation. The whole vibe was one of service and love, with a heavy dose of the spirit.”

Johnathan Woster, who headed the Plano Church group, said it was great to see so many of the members show up and volunteer in force to help out on such a hot day.

“We had 46 people from Plano working that day. We accomplished a lot at four properties which were all in the same neighborhood. All four property owners were thankful for the help. We also had five people go and help out the McKinney Church members at another large property for a couple of hours. One fun thing was seeing the Spanish congregation in Plano setup a table and a canopy and make food for the rest of the team. That made it feel like a family event.”

According to Cooke County VOAD, their organization has coordinated 1,720 volunteers to complete 14,223 hours of assistance to help the residents of Cooke County. Of the 698 homes affected by the tornado, 340 were destroyed or suffered severe damage. The VOAD team has seen 251 families register for emergency assistance. Their focus has been on the immediate needs of shelter, food/water, and safety/debris removal.

For more information on how to support the ongoing recovery efforts, visit Cooke County VOAD.

Photography by Clairissa Cooper.

By Clairissa Cooper

Clairissa Cooper is a freelance marketing professional and photographer. For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she serves as an Assistant Director of Communications – Media for the Dallas Coordinating Council.