By Katherine Ogden
Four AZ stakes join forces with Valley of the Sun United Way to help the homeless
This past June, four Arizona stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked with The Valley of the Sun United Way to host Project Connect.
Project Connect, started by The Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW), is held monthly, to help ease the challenges for individuals who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness, by bringing together valuable health and human services in a single, accessible location. Individuals can get assistance from the Veterans’ Administration, Motor Vehicle Department and Department of Economic Security, and help with such services as housing, health care, clothing, showers, haircuts and bicycle repairs. Participants also are treated to a free meal.
The partnership between VSUW and the four LDS stakes started with Steve Hale, who serves, along with his wife, Melodee, as a service missionary to the Maricopa County jail system. While Brother Hale was teaching in the Estrella jails, an inmate told him about her concerns over a lack of support after being released and ways to transition from jail back to regular life. Brother Hale determined to find out exactly what was available in the area to help with transitioning. It was during a tour of the Paz de Christo outreach center in Mesa, that the manager there showed Brother Hale a schedule for Project Connect.
Brother Hale attended a Project Connect activity in Tempe, where he thought, “Well, why couldn’t the LDS Church do something like this?” He took his idea to of the Stake Presidency of the Mesa South Stake and, with their support, the event came together. VSUW was contacted, a date was set, and the Mesa, Kimball and Kimball East stakes were invited to participate in the effort as well.
Donell Heywood, of the Higley Stake (formerly of the Kimball East Stake) had worked with Project Connect for several years as a community volunteer and on the planning committee. Brother Hale asked Sister Heywood to help get things organized, write letters and make assignments.
More than 1,400 people from the four stakes were involved in collecting items for 400 toiletry kits and 400 food packets. They also gathered donations of gently used clothing, shoes, and new or gently used reading glasses and sunglasses. Each stake humanitarian leader was in charge of collecting the donated items. Members also were asked to sign up as volunteers to work on the day of the event.
“The real story is how everyone in the wards responded so positively and quickly,” says Sister Heywood. “All wards and stakes accepted their assignments, worked together and did an awesome job.”
So many items were donated from the members of the stakes that, after serving 307 people, there were approximately 300 food packs and more than100 toiletry kits left over. Those extra items were used at the July Project Connect event, held at the Grace Community Church in Tempe.
For more information on Project Connect, visit VSUW.com.