“Helping Others after a Disaster,” Ensign, Dec. 1993, 67–68
When there is a disaster, Latter-day Saints often want to reach out to those who have been left homeless or without food. To find out more about how they can do it, the Ensign talked with Dennis Lifferth, director of production-distribution for the Church’s Welfare Services Department and chairman of the Welfare Emergency Response Committee.
Question: How can members best offer their help to others when there is a disaster?
Answer: By working through organized Church programs or other relief agencies. One of the great strengths of the Church is the ability to organize and provide leadership quickly in emergencies. After assessing the needs, local Church leaders indicate the help they need, such as volunteer labor, commodities, or fast offering funds. As we work through organized Church programs or other relief agencies, the contributions of members can be coordinated with local needs.
Q: What would be the most helpful things for members to contribute when a disaster strikes?
A: Where possible, a helping hand and a personal word of encouragement from those able to volunteer their time are often of more assistance than money or commodities. But of course it isn’t always possible to provide personal compassionate service.
Fast offering funds consistently given throughout the year are another way to help—often the most practical way. They can be quickly converted to commodities or materials in the area where aid is needed, and there is no time or expense involved in shipping. If members want to earmark funds specifically for humanitarian relief (to those not of our faith), they can write “humanitarian relief” on the “Other” line of the donation slip. Ordinarily, though, rather than specifying locations where they want funds sent, members are simply encouraged to give generously and let the Brethren decide where the funds should be used. We can all be sure that our contributions will go where the need is greatest.
When there are pressing commodity needs, calls for help may sometimes go from Church headquarters to members in specified areas. After a hurricane hit Samoa, for example, members in Salt Lake City were asked to help produce flour that was shipped to the islands. After flooding in Tijuana, Mexico, members in San Diego, California, were asked to contribute food, and the Church also sent a shipment of commodities from the bishops’ storehouse in Colton, California.
Q: What if members have materials or skills they want to contribute to help those left homeless or hurting?
A: Concerning materials, members can contact Welfare Services to find out whether it is feasible or cost-effective to ship them, and where these should be sent. All Church relief operations are directed through the Bishops’ Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City, but it is important that donations of materials be coordinated through civil authorities and disaster relief agencies so that nothing will be sent that is unneeded or likely to be wasted.
Members with certain skills, or who are willing to give work service, are often called from unaffected areas nearby to help in cleanup or rebuilding. This help is organized through priesthood channels. Members from other areas may wish to help, but their efforts are usually more effective when they link up with groups directed by priesthood authorities or other relief agencies. It should be said, too, that those who develop certain skills which are useful in emergencies—construction know-how, or amateur radio proficiency—contribute in advance to disaster relief.
Q: What are some of the other ways to contribute in advance?
A: By laboring in Church canneries or on welfare projects where possible. Members who work on those projects are a vital part of relief efforts whenever the Church donates commodities to the needy after a disaster, because the commodities come from those canneries and projects. Families find that they are richly blessed when they contribute their time and effort this way.
Members can also contribute to Deseret Industries. Much of the clothing given to Deseret Industries is donated to the needy throughout the world.
It is important for individuals and families to understand, too, that they are contributing to disaster relief when they build up their own year’s supply of necessities and prepare for emergencies that could strike in their particular area. The strength of Church preparedness lies in individual and family preparedness. Church emergency reserves are not designed to provide for the general membership. These reserves are intended for the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the temporarily needy.
Q: Is early preparedness, then, the key to disaster relief?
A: Yes. We can’t prevent disasters, but we can make them less damaging by being as prepared as possible. It is important to consistently make preparations in advance of disaster. Latter-day Saints who do this are usually better able to contribute in their own communities, even in times of relative peace and security.
There is something else that seems important about quiet, consistent effort. It contributes to our own spiritual preparedness. We may wish, when we see touching accounts of the poor and dying in other parts of the world, to go there to hand out food and give comfort personally. Perhaps it is better that we cannot always be there to give the gift. In sharing our money and our labor anonymously, we have the opportunity to follow the Savior’s example and admonition in almsgiving:
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
“That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:3–4.)