Mormon Humanitarian Aid
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, are noted for their world-wide commitment to humanitarian aid. Many of their programs are given without regard to the faith of the receiver, often benefitting entire communities.
In 2011, the Mormons provided extensive relief efforts worth 22 million dollars just for disasters. In addition to the supplies provided, they also sent in large numbers of volunteers. Full-time missionaries often put aside their missionary work to participate in disaster relief and regular members also showed up, frequently sporting the yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests. Relief for that year went to fifty nations for 111 disasters.
The Japanese tsunami required the most assistance. Mormons provided 250 tons of supplies just in the first month. Later, after many groups had left and the media was gone, the church continued to provide relief. The church has provided 22,000 volunteers who have given more than 175,000 hours of free service to the people of Japan. They also created an employment resource center, sent 80 missionaries to help rebuild the Yawata Shrine, and donated supplies to fishermen to help them restart their businesses. Late in the year, fishermen in remote and therefore often forgotten areas received refrigerated trucks, nets, octopus cages, fish tanks, digital scales and large catch containers.
The same year, Mormons sent volunteers to assist with the East African drought and famine. 13 million people were suffering from one of the worst droughts in a half century. For this effort, Mormons are working with other organizations to increase their ability to serve the people of areas such as Somalia and the Horn of Africa. They are in the process of sending water tanks into Ethiopia, along with supplemental food for 8700 children, sanitation kits, and facilities for nutrition and sanitation. In Kenya, they are providing medicine, medical supplies, and health outposts to other organizations already working with refugees. Mormons are also providing long-term solutions to problems in Africa, including clean water initiatives, wells, wheelchairs, and neonatal resuscitation training.
The Mormons also provided emergency relief for Hurricane Irene, flooding in Thailand, and United States tornadoes.
Besides responding to disasters, the Mormons operate five long-term humanitarian projects for neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment and measles vaccinations. Again, these are provided to communities in need regardless of either religion or nationality. A focus on projects is eventual self-reliance. Many humanitarian aid groups provide on-going service, but never work towards allowing those in need to learn how to care for themselves. In some cities, wells remain broken and villagers drink dirty water while waiting for someone from the organization that first installed it to return for repairs. Mormons try to find ways to help these people to continue providing for their needs without help from outsiders. Not only does this increase self-esteem, but it allows the Mormons to move on to help new groups of people.
For instance, in Sierra Leone, the Mormons funded four water stations using water pumped from a local spring and piped to a storage facility. The community leaders participated in making decisions concerning the project. Local citizens built the wells, which brought an added benefit of employment and job training. A qualified contractor, of course, installed the system. Next, the leaders in Sierra Leone were asked to create committees to oversee and run this system and the church trained people to do the repairs. If they do a good job of maintaining their system, it will last for ten years without the need for outside assistance.
Unlike many charities, 100 percent of the donations to the Humanitarian fund are used to provide actual services and supplies to those in need. Administrative costs are paid for from other church funds.
Mormons provide some services that are specifically for their members, although those who are not Mormon often benefit from these programs. One such program is paid for through fast offerings. Once a month, those Mormons who can do so safely are asked to go without food or drink of any kind for twenty-four hours.
They are asked to donate the money they saved to a special fund called a fast offering. This money is used to care for those in a congregation who are having temporary hardships. If there is surplus money, it is used to help congregations with greater need but fewer who can contribute sufficient funds to help. One unique component of the program is the bishop’s storehouse. This resembles a store without a cash register. Those in need meet with their bishop (a lay pastor) to discuss their needs. He reviews their income and budget to help them make as many cuts to the budget as possible and then, if they still need help, they fill out a form selecting the food and hygiene items they need from the list. They fill the order at a storehouse. They are invited to assist others for an hour or so first in order to help preserve their self-esteem and feelings of self-sufficiency.
Most food banks can only provide one or two bags of food every two weeks. It is seldom everything a family needs to survive and so these people must go to a variety of facilities. By serving a limited population, the Mormons can completely meet the needs of the families they help, which means their people do not need to take food from the local food banks or the government. In this way, they are indirectly helping the other food banks by reducing the number of people they must help. Much of the food is canned in church-owned canneries. Many canneries do not need to operate every day and allow other charities to use their facilities to can food for patrons. In addition, when a bishop’s storehouse has excess food, it is donated to the local food bank.
Why do Mormons devote so many hours and supplies to the needy? They believe they are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who devoted much of his ministry to serving those in need. He instructed His followers to do the same. It is this admonition that drives Mormon charity.