Sister Smith proposed the action at general conference and said:
“The Relief Society General Presidency has prayerfully considered the matter of their wheat stewardship and has decided … it is time to include the Relief Society wheat in the worldwide Church grain storage program.
“We wish to propose that the 266,291 bushels of Relief Society wheat now be made a part of the grain storage plan of Welfare Services. … This action is unanimously supported by the Relief Society general board. …
“With President Kimball’s permission, I would like to ask the sisters present in this meeting also to affirm this action. All sisters in favor of joining with us in the decision to include the Relief Society wheat in the worldwide Church grain storage program please signify. Thank you” (“The Fruit of Our Welfare Services Labors
,” Oct. 1978 general conference).
Sister Smith and her presidency sat as members of the General Welfare Committee. Sister Bingham, Sister Aburto, and I sit today in the same body along with the First Presidency, the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric to review all strategic welfare decisions—including wheat and humanitarian services.
The Power of Wheat Today
Wheat and grain storage are still a major component of the Church’s welfare program. Just a few weeks ago, the Welfare Executive Committee approved a large donation from LDS Charities to the World Food Programme for almost 1,400 metric tons of wheat and yellow split peas to relieve hunger in Yemen. Because it would be impractical to ship the grain from the U.S. to Yemen, LDS Charities donated $1 million in cash to allow the grain to be purchased in the region and distributed around the country.
You may not hear much about Yemen in the news these days, but more than 18 million people in the country do not have enough food, and it has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world. We anticipate that this donation will serve 97,000 people, not one of them a member of our Church. The General Relief Society Presidency is still very active in supervising relief for those suffering around the world.
Wheat is a powerful gospel symbol. Each member of Relief Society is part of that imagery. What can you and I do to follow in the footsteps of Emmeline B. Wells and Barbara B. Smith? How can each of us help relieve suffering in our own communities? When you glean a handful of time for a friend who needs to talk, you are following in this tradition. When you collect cans for the local food pantry, or teach your children to support each other’s dreams and goals, or donate to the Humanitarian Fund to feed others you are continuing the tradition of Relief Society wheat. Our contributions may look slightly different from that of our foremothers who gleaned fields and filled granaries, but the purpose is the same: to relieve suffering, to cooperate for good causes, to offer something substantial to those who are hungry.
I appreciate a specific comment President Kimball made to the Relief Society conference in 1978 when the wheat stores were combined. I feel he was looking forward to the time when the world would hunger for examples of trustworthy women and men working shoulder to shoulder together on pressing issues even more than it would hunger for wheat. He said:
“We ask you … to support the Brethren, and we ask them to support you and to work together as partners and companions in furthering the work of the Lord and your own salvation. Let this gift from the Relief Society today be an example of the cooperative effort and harmony that can enrich our lives in the Church and in the home.
I add my own prayer to President Kimball’s that each woman and man among us can find within themselves the cooperative and nourishing “power of wheat.”
Sharon Eubank is the First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency and the director of LDS Charities, the humanitarian organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She loves history, homemade pie, and crossword puzzles. See more thoughts from Sister Eubank on her official Facebook page.