What does the Church do to help people when a catastrophe occurs?
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“What does the Church do to help people when a catastrophe occurs?” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 43

What does the Church do to help people when a catastrophe such as an earthquake, flood, or tornado occurs?

Richard W. Linford, assistant manager of program development and marketing services, Production-Distribution Division, Welfare Services Department

On Friday evening, February 1, 1974, the Brisbane Australia Stake president reported that twenty-nine families of Saints whose houses had been flooded in the wake of a devastating hurricane had been evacuated to the homes of other members. After the Saints had exhausted their own resources, the stake provided food and shelter for those in need. A ward meetinghouse was made available to the local civil defense organization as a place to care for those in the city who were suffering because of the terrible flooding. One bishop reported that he had twenty people staying in his home; they were living from his year’s supply of food. Local priesthood brethren were organized to work day and night to clean out the silt and garbage. Funds were sent from the Presiding Bishopric’s Office to supplement the available local fast offering funds.

The Omaha, Nebraska, tornado that struck in May of 1975 resulted in substantial property damage. Although the Omaha Third and Fourth wards and others were affected, no Latter-day Saints were killed or injured. Local priesthood brethren organized clean-up and repair crews. They indicated no need for help from other Church organizations in the region or from the general church headquarters and followed fundamental Church welfare principles in doing what they could to help themselves.

These are but two of many incidents in which Church members and priesthood leaders have cooperated to assist those suffering from disaster. These examples illustrate the fundamental principle that governs Church response in times of emergency: Whenever a disaster occurs, every effort should be made to solve the attendant problems at the lowest possible organizational level.

The responsibility is, first, for each individual to help himself, and next, for each family to help its members. Church resources are utilized only where individuals and their families are unable to care for themselves.

Where Church involvement does become necessary, bishops or branch presidents take all emergency action necessary to care for the welfare of Church members and their families—and nonmembers as well, where possible. Priesthood quorums and local members are called upon to help as needed, and local resources such as commodities available at bishops storehouses and, where available, Deseret Industries facilities, are used as long as they last. Where ward resources are inadequate, stake or mission presidents may make available the resources of the other wards and branches under their jurisdiction and may also seek regional or area assistance.

When still more assistance is required, stake or mission presidents report conditions and urgent needs and recommend a plan of action to the General Welfare Services Committee for approval by the Presiding Bishopric. After an evaluation in which local resources are balanced against pressing needs, the Presiding Bishopric may, under the direction of the First Presidency, then proceed to send aid in the form of materials and personnel to the stricken area.

The Church has responded quickly to emergencies throughout the world in past decades. After World War II, 140 railroad cars loaded with food, clothing, and other materials, all valued at about $2 million, were shipped to Europe. Many thousands of tons of goods have been sent in recent years to flooded areas in western Europe, to earthquake-devastated countries of South America, and to disaster areas within the United States.

Individuals are encouraged first to help themselves—to be prepared, to be independent and self-sustaining, and, to the extent possible, to work for the interests of others. Then, each family should help its own members. And finally, Church resources should be utilized only where individuals and their families are unable to care for themselves. Again, the fundamental principle is that problems should be solved at the lowest possible organizational level.