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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

When Storms Roll Through, Denton Church Unleashes 'Sweat Team' For Disaster Relief

Strong tornadoes and major floods often produce nonstop news coverage and an outpouring of charitable giving. It's the small storms, though, that tend to come and go without much notice.

That's when Denton Bible Church steps in.

Two weeks post-tornado in Denton, Taylor Moran's front yard is looking good ... except for the toddler's swing resting on the ground, and the giant stump that used to be the tall tree where that swing lived.

"The wind was so loud, we didn't hear any of it," Moran said.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado hit Denton on April 30. Moran says the house where she lives with her husband and 16 month-old Hudson was ok, they only lost an outside shutter. The yards on her street didn't fare so well.

"Looked out this window and we could see the trees on the house. And then we looked in the back yard, trees down," she said. "We could see our neighbors' fence was down, their shed was up in a tree. Across the road this fence across here was gone."

The next day Moran was facing down a yard full of fallen trees. But, not for long.

"I took Hudson to day care and I came back and there was someone knocking on my door, and it was Wayne. And he said, 'Do you need help?' And I said, 'Sure.' My husband was at work and I [didn't] know when we were going to get to it," Moran said. "My husband works six days a week."

» The Sweat Team

Wayne the door knocker is Wayne Carrigan. And he heads up an unusual ministry at Denton Bible Church: The Sweat Team. It's exactly what it sounds like, a group of people with power tools and energy who are happy to get outside and help their fellow man. The day after this tornado, the Sweat Team mobilized.

"Looked out this window and we could see the trees on the house. We could see our neighbors' fence was down, their shed was up in a tree."

"Basically we had trees that were on houses. Broken down fences on other people's property. And we just took care of those and cleaned them up," Carrigan said. "Left it a little better than it was when we got there."

That can be a huge relief to storm victims. While insurance may pay for tree removal, some policies have a sizable deductible that must be met first. Or a policy limit per-tree, or a clause that excludes coverage if a tree from someone else's yard blows into yours.

Not everyone has insurance, or the time and tools to take care of damage themselves.

» Everyone with a chainsaw

That's why Denton Bible Church member Jerry Firchau was so keen to set out with his chainshaw the morning after the storm. A ministry worker gave him his marching orders.

"She kept texting me. Isaid 'ok, we're done here.' And she'd say 'ok, we got you another one.' And so she just kept sending us to other places," Firchau said.

Firchau and some of his friends from bible study put in an entire day's work. The church staff let Denton County Emergency Management know they had volunteers at the ready, so church members were able to find people on the blocks with the most damage. They helped anyone and everyone-- for free. Not just people who belong to the church. Not just people they knew.

"I think God put it on our heart to help people. That's what we're here for. And if we've got the ability to do so, and a chainsaw in this case, we're meant to go out and do it," Firchau said.

Phone video from resident Taylor Moran of the cleanup:

» Getting rid of a painful reminder

Taylor Moran had never even heard of Denton Bible Church when her chainsaw-wielding Samaritans showed up. But she's not soon to forget it.

"I was still very shocked. And to have [the tree] just gone, that really, really helped. It was like a burden off our shoulders. We didn't have to worry about cleanup or trying to figure this out or make time for this or that. And then it wasn't staring in our face," she said. "Because it was just a big reminder, laying on our house."

The last thing people want to face the day after a tornado damages their home or rips apart their yard is filing a claim, or scheduling an expensive tree removal appointment. So the volunteers with Denton Bible Church figured, they'd just step in and handle it themselves, and be the calm aftter the storm.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.