Mesa Site Focuses on “Providing in the Lord’s Way” to Help the Poor and Needy and Help Individuals Become Self-Reliant
By Cecily Markland
Near the Mesa-Tempe border, a complex covering more than a city block provides ample evidence of the extent of, and inspiration behind, the welfare program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Recently, a VIP tour introduced community leaders and local businesspeople to the fine-tuned process of “providing in the Lord’s way” and of giving a “hand up, not a hand out.”
The complex includes the Bishops’ Storehouse, Mesa Arizona Employment Resources Center, Cannery and Home Storage Center—to help Church members and others find assistance and temporary relief in times of need. At the same time, each of the services offered is designed to move individuals toward self-reliance and being able to stand on their own.
At the Mesa Bishops’ Storehouse, Church-service missionaries and volunteers from 70 Arizona stakes, help “distribute “commodities to the poor and needy as requested by bishops,” the Church’s provident living website explains (www.providentliving.org).
Elder Tim Friddle, with his wife, Sandra, from Bountiful, Utah, is a Church-service missionary assigned as manager at the Bishops’ Storehouse, where clean, fully stocked shelves contain everything from canned goods, to meat, produce, personal hygiene products, laundry detergent, pancake mix, pasta, sugar, flour and other items.
While some products are purchased directly from the manufacturers, most are produced within the Church welfare system—even grown on Church farms or manufactured in the Church’s own pasta plant—and then canned and labeled with the Deseret label.
“It’s referred to as the ‘label that money can’t buy,’ because, “the only check we take is a bishop’s order with a bishop’s signature,” Elder Friddle says.
With a signed order, typically filled out with the help of the Relief Society president, individuals requiring temporary assistance are able to have their basic needs for food and hygiene met.
To keep the process running, however, requires a constrant stream of volunteers.
“It takes 35 to 50 people to run one shift,” Elder Friddle explains, adding, “Most are assigned, some just call in or show up and volunteer. It’s great; what it tells me is that the Lord has quite a few willing to feed the poor.”
Some of the patrons help too, as “bishops ask those receiving assistance to work to the extent of their ability for the assistance they receive,” the website explains, meaning many are assigned to work a couple of hours each time they receive an order.
He says, “We remind volunteers to be Christlike. We tell them if they do happen to see someone they know that they need to make sure that stays here.”
Elder Friddle says there is no question in his mind: “This is the Lord’s program. You can feel it. It just is.”
To the east of the Bishops’ Storehouse is the Employment Resource Center. Again, the center offers a wealth of resources to help those who are in need, whether out of work or looking to advance in a career.
Bob Shaha manages the Mesa center as well as centers in Tucson, Phoenix Snowflake and Window Rock. He explains that a variety of workshops are offered in the center, from professional career workshops to resume writing and even self-employment workshops, to help individuals at whatever level they may be.
“We have workshops even for those people who are not sure what they want,” Brother Shaha says. “We do a lot to help people assess skills and choose a direction.”
With the computers in the center, Church-service missionaries can also assist individual to become familiar with job searches using www.ldsjobs.org.
“We help candidates develop their online profile and their ‘Me in 30 Seconds’, and show them how to include powerful statements that will get their resume noticed,” Brother Shaha says.
“The missionaries here are very good at helping with that process, or just sitting and counseling with people, providing a listening ear.”
“Often,” Brother Shaha says, “people come in, and they are having a rough time of it; their hands are hanging down. If we can get them to feel just a little better about themselves than when they came in, we’ve made a difference.”
“Unemployment is something no one should ever have to experience alone,” he says.
The Employment Resource Center is open to members of the LDS Church or of other faiths as well, and no recommendation from a bishop is required to use the services or attend workshops. In addition, they have a program to actively looks for companies with job openings that can be added to the ldsjobs.org database.
On the east side of the Bishops’ Storehouse is the Cannery, a “wet pack” facility where Mark Ellingson, of the Mesa Kimball Stake, is cannery manager.
He explains that Mesa is one of six canneries in the country that produce “90 percent plus” of the items distributed at Bishops’ Storehouses nationwide.
“So, our purpose is to produce a large amount of product,” he says.
Two stakes assigned to provide 10 volunteers each for each shift, two shifts a day.
In his 18 years of working in the cannery, Brother Ellingson has seen the magnitude and miracles behind the welfare system.
“It’s much larger than any of us realize,” he says, adding, “The extent of how our fast offerings are used to care for the poor and needy and how much good is done through the collective use of fast offerings if truly amazing.”
He says, also impressive is the “magnitude and strength of volunteer service.
He says the amount of good that takes place because of volunteers is immeasurable.
Missionaries and the stake volunteers view their service as a “way to: pay forward, to fulfill preisthood assignments and give to the poor that are less fortunate. They want to help minimize suffering, just as the Savior taught us to do,” says Brother Ellingson, adding that it is always done in such a way as to “maintain dignity and self-worth of the individual.”
Brother Ellinson continues, “It’s amazing to see the strength that comes into lives of both giver and receiver. Both are truly edified, both made stronger.”
In the Home Storage Center, also on the east side of the complex, Church members and others package “dry”food for longer-term home storage. Alan and Julia Griffin, who serve as Church-service missionaries there, say, “It’s part of the overall plan to make sure people are self-reliant.”
The pamphlet, “All is Safely Gathered In,” quotes the First Presidency, saying, :We encourage Church members worldwide to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings.”
Individuals visit the Home Storage Center “by themselves or in groups,” the website explains. Some products are prepackaged in #10 cans, while commodities—including beans, wheat and rice—can be purchased in bulk and then canned in #10 cans or foil pouches.
To plan ahead, download or print and order form from www.providentliving.org. (Follow the links Family Home Storage> Home Storage Center Order Form.) Also available on the site are the telephone numbers and information about each of the services in the Mesa complex.
“There is truly a special spirit behind everything that happens here,” says Sister Griffin.
“It’s the Lord’s work, for sure,” she adds.