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Mormon store helps the needy

Posted: September 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Customers pick out needed food items at the Mormon church's Bishop's Storehouse facility in 2008 in Salt Lake City. The outlet seems like any other grocery store at first glance. But there are no cash registers here. Everything is free as a safety net for those in need.

 

Layoffs, illness and foreclosure have affected many lives throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. Many residents found assistance from the Church Welfare Program, which is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known more commonly as the Mormon church.

The program, offered to anyone, helps thousands of people each year by providing groceries when times are tough. Families needing help, after a short interview with the bishop of their local ward or congregation, are sent to the Bishop’s Storehouse in Sylmar.

Prepared for disaster

The Bishop’s Storehouse in Sylmar is one of 129 storehouses in the U.S. owned and managed by the Mormon church as part of the Church Welfare Program, which was established in 1936 following the Great Depression.

“People who come here generally have had something turned upside down in their lives,” said Budd Fox, church welfare field manager. “It’s a place where people in need can be helped by people who have a little extra.”

The building holds a small storefront and a warehouse full of food. Visitors to the “store” notice two things: The store has no cash register, and the bottled and canned foods lining the shelves contain a unique logo not seen in commercial retail grocery stores.

On the same property sits four large silos holding 200,000 bushels of hard red wheat stored in case of major disasters. These storehouses help local people in need, but also goes toward assistance to people during major disasters, like the aid the church offered following Hurricane Katrina.

“Members of our faith believe in following the savior’s example to seek out and bless the poor and needy,” said Steven G. Lindberg, president of the Santa Clarita Stake, or administrative center.

Deseret

The food lining the shelves of the storehouse is stamped with the Deseret brand. This brand is entirely owned by the Mormon church. The church grows all of its own crops, operates its own dairy processing plant and canneries, and even has its own transportation fleet.

The brand carries 121 different products from canned peaches to fresh apples; flour to pasta; fresh lettuce, cheese and milk. Deseret even manufactures its own shampoo and condition. The products are only offered for donation; none can be sold.

The storehouses, farms and canneries are all run by volunteers of local stakes (regions) of the church. Funding for the brand is predominantly received from tithes and a voluntary fast offering. This offering is taken once a week when each member is asked to fast and donate the money they would have spent on food for the day, to the fast offering.

Helping Everyone

The Mormon church’s welfare program is one of the most extensive systems of its kind. Recipients — members and nonmembers alike — are encouraged to give back after receiving aid by volunteering. The request is not mandatory but is typically followed, often providing another level of assistance by boosting emotional connection and self-esteem.

“Our goal is to provide wholesome food and a meaningful work experience,” Fox said. “The work creates a good feeling that they aren’t getting something for nothing.”

Elder Bill Turner, church member and 10-year volunteer and store manager of the Bishop’s Warehouse in Sylmar has seen firsthand how the program has touched people’s lives, including many of the volunteers, as he recalled one particular family in need.

“Before they came in, they didn’t know how they were going to feed their kids,” Turner said. “They were very thankful and prayed over the food. We get to see that happen and see how it changes their lives.”

 

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