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Light The World: Giving Machines Vend Out Thousands of Dollars For Local Charities

This past Christmas season, Church leaders again invited us to “Light the World.”  Events began with a worldwide day of service and ended with a special Sunday worship service. Each week in between featured a different theme with different ideas for how we could “Light the World” by following the Savior’s example of love and service.

The concept came about from a question asking “How would Jesus Christ celebrate His own birthday?” says Jeff Taylor, Executive Creative Director of Bonneville Communications (Boncom). “And we came up with this campaign called ‘Light the World,’ which is essentially celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ by emulating His life.”

A missionary assists a family at the Giving Machines in Gilbert. Photo by Robin Finlinson.

A missionary assists a family at the Giving Machines in Gilbert. Photo by Robin Finlinson

Later, while continuing to work under the direction of the Church’s Missionary Department to promote the campaign, the Boncom Creative Team secured an old vending machine, fitted it with cards and dressed it with Light the World banners. It looked nice, but public property owners were understandably skeptical about granting it space. Finding a downtown Salt Lake City holiday home took time. A week before Thanksgiving 2017, a Joseph Smith Memorial Building patron called and said, “We’ll take it!” It brought in approximately $500,000, all of which went to charities.

In these special vending machines, instead of receiving the typical beverage or snack, patrons paid for items to be donated to local and global charities that work year-round directly with people in need. Forty-two vending choices were made available, ranging from $2 fingerling fishes to a $210 “school in a box.” Items were represented by pictures on cards arranged in the machines. When an item was purchased, the card representing the item dropped down and was then collected at the bottom the machine tray.

Each local nonprofit leader who received a check also received a gift with some of the actual cards that had been in the Gilbert Giving Machines. Photo by Robin Finlinson.

Each local nonprofit leader who received a check also received a gift with some of the actual cards that had been in the Gilbert Giving Machines. Photo by Robin Finlinson

Leaders of a Catholic congregation in Manila, Philippines happened to be touring Salt Lake at the time the first machine was in place. They immediately recognized the machine’s potential and partnered with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in that relief effort. At Christmastime 2018, a set of Giving Machines stood by their Catholic church, which resides inside the world’s seventh largest mall, the SM Megamall in metro Manila’s Ortigas Center.

Last year, machines also went to London, England, by Hyde Park Chapel (owned by the Church), to New York City, by the Manhattan Temple, and to Gilbert, Arizona, in Water Tower Plaza.

Sister Fran Lowder, the Gilbert City Outreach Specialist, was assigned to the local Light the World Giving Machine Committee. She describes the hundreds of participating missionaries from three Arizona missions—Mesa, Tempe, and Gilbert – and the opportunity which was open to each capable missionary with the desire. Their faces lit with enthusiasm as they helped set up the machines, received training, then took turns welcoming and assisting donors during the 33-day public event. “They will be forever changed,” she says. Missionaries manned the machines at every location.

Elder C. Dale Willis, Jr. and Mayor Jenn Daniels tell the audience at a Gilbert Town Council meeting February 7th about the Giving Machines right before big checks are given from the Church to the four participating local nonprofits. Photo by Robin Finlinson.

Elder C. Dale Willis, Jr. and Mayor Jenn Daniels tell the audience at a Gilbert Town Council meeting February 7th about the Giving Machines right before big checks are given from the Church to the four participating local nonprofits. Photo by Robin Finlinson

Sister Reyna I. Aburto, Second Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, introduced the Gilbert machines to the town and to news media in November. Word spread through bloggers and social media platforms such as #LightTheWorld.

Many donors, especially young ones, were excited to help pay for families abroad to receive animals. For example, eager to buy a cow, two Gilbert girls raised the requisite $150 with a bake sale.

Gilbert and neighboring cities make up a particularly service-minded community. One missionary told of a nonmember Gilbert woman who was so impressed with the machines that she planned to bring friends to them every day that she could.

Gilbert’s machines stood against a shed—formerly the water pump house, then the town’s first jail—which had no electrical power. Generators were suggested, but the Church paid to wire the shed with electricity.

North American South West Area Seventy Elder C. Dale Willis, Jr. describes the Church’s other financial contributions: “Administrative costs (including credit card fees) for the campaign and costs associated with its nonprofit partners were covered by The Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He adds that “100% of donations will be used for the purchased item or similar items or service of greater need as determined by the applicable charitable organization.”

At a February Gilbert Town Council meeting, Elder Willis, Sister Lowder, and Director of Media in the Church’s Missionary Department Brother Greg Droubay, handed out enormous checks to each of the four local charity partners. The amounts received were as follows:

  • Helen’s Hope Chest: $54,410
  • A New Leaf: $60,980
  • United Food Bank: $67,196.50
  • Mary’s Food Bank Alliance: $67,196.50

Tom Kertis, CEO of St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, says, “We are grateful to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of the timing of this gift. It came after the first of the year, when our donations are down and we need to refill our shelves. It will allow us to provide nearly a half million meals.”

“If you donated a holiday turkey, a box of produce, or even a box of mac & cheese, you were helping a hungry family in Arizona,” says Dave Richins, CEO of United Food Bank.

Leaders of the four local nonprofits received very large checks from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints thanks to patrons of the Gilbert Giving Machines. Left to right: Dave Richins, Michael Hughes, Katy Pompay and Tom Kertis. Photo by Robin Finlinson.

Leaders of the four local nonprofits received very large checks from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints thanks to patrons of the Gilbert Giving Machines. Left to right: Dave Richins, Michael Hughes, Katy Pompay and Tom Kertis. Photo by Robin Finlinson

Though Helen’s Hope Chest is a small nonprofit, it blesses thousands of Arizona’s foster children and foster parents, who pay nothing for the children to “shop” for items in its beautiful little store. “The LDS community has always been really supportive,” says manager Katy Pompay.

A New Leaf assists individuals and families in crisis. They served 32,424 residents in metro Phoenix last year. CEO Michael Hughes says to the community, “We are thankful beyond words for your expressions of generosity. On behalf of A New Leaf and our clients, thank you for lighting the world this past holiday season!”

Mayor Jenn Daniels feels fortunate to have hosted the machines: “What a tremendous opportunity for our residents, businesses and neighbors to give to wonderful groups serving our entire region!”

The top-selling item was water. Donors paid for it through separate Giving Machines that collected a total of $101,929 to give undernourished people abroad fresh water.

Donations allowed the following to be given:

  • 842,620 meals
  • 19,640 chickens
  • 15,776 medical and health supplies (including vaccinations)
  • 10,817 clothing and household supplies

The total dollar amounts collected are as follows:

  • Salt Lake City, Utah: $1,279,927 (48,030 transactions)
  • Gilbert, Arizona: $862,120 (34,843 transactions)
  • New York City, New York: $131,842 (4,556 transactions)
  • London, England: $20,912 (1,434 transactions)
  • Manila, Philippines: $15,041 (3,327 transactions)
  • Total: $2,309,844 (92,190 transactions)

Thanks to incredible collaboration, trust in those special vending machines paid off.

The 2019 locations are yet to be determined, but the Church looks forward to the expansion of this initiative. Meanwhile, find current needs of charitable agencies at justserve.org.

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