COLTON – The tantalizing scent of chocolate piques the senses, but nowhere in the cavernous building in Colton is there a candy bar or steaming mug of cocoa.
It is filled with big bags of dry pudding mix, beans, flour and sugar: staples that portray the golden rule of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormons take care of themselves and others.
The church that is known for its exclusive rituals and richly appointed temples humbly performs good works.
Members go without two meals each month to provide millions of dollars in groceries for the needy.
They volunteer their services in food storehouses, canneries, thrift stores and employment and counseling centers, and promote public assistance projects worldwide through a huge system that is perhaps the largest welfare effort of its kind in the nation.
“I am completely amazed by the amount of humanitarian aid given,’ said Bob Bonilla, a former LDS bishop who now serves as a local church spokesman. “The church is so quiet about it, and the people are so humble. They don’t want to toot their own horn.”
‘Wherever he finds them’
Latter-day Saints prophet Joseph Smith taught that a member of the church “is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them.’
Seemingly, that is everywhere.
Humanitarian assistance given since 1985 has surpassed $456 million in 150 countries, including more than 41 tons of food, 52 tons of surplus clothing and 5,300 tons of medical equipment, church officials said.
Cash donations have exceeded $88.7 million.
Yet, the work represented by these figures is done quietly, without the fanfare that has surrounded the new Redlands Temple, which is open for public tours through Sept. 6.
Volunteers toil behind the scenes.
In Colton, men, women and teens bag produce and stock shelves at the Bishop’s Storehouse on Pepper Avenue.
Next door, members can receive marriage and family counseling, arrange adoption or sign up for job placement services.
A few miles away, on La Cadena Avenue, employees and volunteers work side by side, sorting new and donated clothing and household goods for Deseret Industries. The thrift shop provides free clothing to those in need and sells it to the general public.
“The whole idea is to help people be as self-reliant as possible,’ said Gregory Bishop, Riverside West stake president, who oversees storehouse operations for San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Since its beginning, the LDS church has provided for the physical, spiritual, social and emotional welfare of members and people outside the church, officials said.
The church teaches that in hard times, people should try to solve their own problems before going to their extended family for help. When difficulty persists, they may turn to the bishop as a local minister for temporary assistance. He is helped by the Relief Society, the church women’s organization and other congregation leaders.
The church’s welfare program is a primary focus and crucial to LDS doctrine.
“It overlays everything we do,’ Bishop said. “A person who is hungry or in need of shelter has difficulty thinking about spiritual things.’
Faithful members give 10 percent of their income to the church, but the funding for the welfare system comes from separate monthly offerings equivalent to the cost of two meals, which members go without to finance welfare programs. The donations are administered locally so each community can care for its own troubled people.
“There’s no better cause’ than to help their spiritual brothers and sisters, said Joy and Mike Rasmussen of Provo, Utah. Last week, the young couple spent part of their California vacation assisting at the Colton storehouse managed by her father, Carl McClaine.
From the time they can walk and talk, Mormon children are taught the value of helping others.
These early lessons lead committed members through a lifetime of humanitarian service and preparation for difficult times.
Mormon families are encouraged to keep a one-year supply of food and other supplies on hand at all times, for themselves and family.
Church members can purchase bulk foods through the Bishop’s Storehouse and get the dry products in one-gallon cans for long-term storage.
“We teach self-reliance as a principle of life, that we ought to provide for ourselves and take care of our own needs. And so we encourage our people to have something, to plan ahead, keep … food on hand, to establish a savings account, if possible, against a rainy day,’ Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the church, has written.
No strings attached
The church operates a network of farms, ranches, canneries and processing plants supported by members who donate millions of hours each year to harvest, process, and package food for the poor.
The food and other basic items produced at the plants, much of it bearing the church’s own Deseret logo, are placed on the shelves of 113 storehouses throughout the country for the sole purpose of being given away.
The groceries, meats, dairy products and produce are not for sale. There are no cash registers and no IOUs. The only way a person can obtain the commodities is through a local bishop’s written authorization.
“There is no obligation at all,’ said Bonilla, the local LDS spokesman. “We’re here to help them. We only ask that if they get assistance, they return as a volunteer to help in any way that is needed. It’s a matter of self-respect.”
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