“Lessons Learned at the Bishops’ Storehouse,” Ensign, Dec. 2001, 53–55
A variety of emotions filled my soul as I drove to the bishops’ storehouse with my ward Relief Society president. I had always believed in working hard and being self-reliant, yet now I found myself receiving Church welfare. I was grateful for a church that would help me and for a bishop who wanted to make sure my family was taken care of, but I felt I had somehow failed.
My husband of 29 years had made a good living, and I had been able to stay home with our 10 children. Then he filed for divorce, and for the first time in my life, I no longer had sufficient means to provide for my family. When my bishop told me the Church could help temporarily until my financial situation improved, I resisted at first. He asked me to pray about it and to review my budget with my home teacher. After following my bishop’s counsel, I realized it would indeed be in the best interest of my family to accept the help.
As I walked into the bishops’ storehouse that first time, I ducked my head out of embarrassment. The Relief Society president—whom I was serving with as Relief Society secretary—helped me select some food, trying to make me feel all right about getting plenty for my family. When it came time to leave, I felt awkward, wanting to explain to the sister at the checkout counter that I was not being lazy or trying to take advantage of the Church.
At home, relieved that the first experience was over, I showed the children all the food we were given. We decided to send thank-you letters, and we knelt in prayer to express our gratitude to Heavenly Father. We also talked about how grateful we were for the good Saints who were so generous with their tithes and offerings.
Despite my gratitude, I struggled with conflicting feelings. I searched my heart to try to understand what was so upsetting to me about receiving Church food. I realized that I harbored prideful beliefs and that I had previously taken credit for blessings the Lord had given me, including my food, clothing, and nice home. I thought about how the Lord actually gives us everything we have, even our very lives. As King Benjamin states, “Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:19; emphasis added).
During the months I received Church assistance, I worked part-time as a psychiatric nurse while trying to juggle the responsibilities of caring for my seven children who were still at home. I knew that bishops are instructed to help members work for the assistance they receive, yet my bishop seemed to feel I already had my hands full. However, I still felt the need to pay something back to the Church.
One day I noticed a sign at the bishops’ storehouse stating that they needed volunteers. I knew this was what I needed to do. I felt that if I worked at the storehouse, I might feel greater peace about my situation and might learn additional lessons that Heavenly Father wanted to teach me.
I worked at the bishops’ storehouse just a few hours here and there. The first day I smashed empty boxes for several hours. Other days I stocked shelves, vacuumed, washed windows, or arranged produce. I especially enjoyed assisting people who came to the storehouse. My work helped me feel better about my situation.
On one occasion I helped a man with a mental disability. He wanted to put things into his basket that had not been ordered, and he had a difficult time understanding that everything had to be preordered by his bishop. He was somewhat belligerent at first, but as I spoke with him he softened and told me that he was lonely and that he lived alone. I hoped that somehow I had made his day a little brighter, as he had made mine.
Another day I was able to assist a Hispanic sister who spoke limited English. She didn’t understand how the process worked and what food items she was supposed to get. I helped her find the items on her request form and helped her mark them off. Her husband, who waited for her while she gathered the food, was excited when he found out there was surplus ice cream available and that he could take all he thought his family could use. They both thanked me and even tried to teach me a little Spanish. Did I feel good inside? Yes indeed!
Receiving Church assistance was not an easy experience, but it was a growing one. I learned much about gratitude, service, vulnerability, and love. In particular, I learned more about pride and the importance of being humble.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) stated:
“The proud depend upon the world to tell them whether they have value or not. Their self-esteem is determined by where they are judged to be on the ladders of worldly success. …
“… [Pride] separates and divides us by ‘ranks,’ according to our ‘riches’ and our ‘chances for learning’ (3 Ne. 6:12)” (“Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 6).
We often judge each other by our possessions, education, appearance, or position, yet we know Heavenly Father does not judge us by these measuring sticks. My experience taught me the value of looking on the heart rather than the outward appearance (see 1 Sam. 16:7).
I am now in a position where I can provide for the needs of my family without additional assistance. Yet I will forever be grateful for all I learned while receiving Church welfare food and working at the bishops’ storehouse. It is a special place—a place where I received not only food but, more important, a heightened appreciation for the many gifts Heavenly Father gives me and for those things that are truly of great worth.
“The real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church.”
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961) of the First Presidency, as quoted in Glen L. Rudd, Pure Religion: The Story of Church Welfare since 1930 (1995), 44–45.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
How can we develop more gratitude and a greater awareness of our blessings?
How can we avoid basing self-worth on our possessions or outward appearance? How can we help ourselves and our families not to be judgmental of those in need?
What attitudes will best help us learn and grow during our challenges?