Offering Aid in Times of Need
July 2002

“Offering Aid in Times of Need,” Ensign, July 2002, 77–78

Offering Aid in Times of Need

When disaster strikes or a drought or famine is reported somewhere in the world, many Church members feel the generous impulse to aid those in need. To find out how Latter-day Saints can best extend aid to others in these situations, the Ensign talked with Garry R. Flake, director of Humanitarian Services for the Church’s Welfare Services Department.

Question: What is the best way for members to help the Church extend disaster relief or emergency aid to others?

Answer: The best way is to make ongoing contributions to the humanitarian fund. When Church members offer regular donations through their ward or branch, it gives the Church the greatest flexibility in response. Because the small administrative overhead we have in handling these donations is paid by the Church, every dollar can help those in need.

Q: What if people have food or other emergency supplies they would like to contribute?

A: Most people don’t realize the practical or logistical difficulties of packing relief items, transporting them, and getting them into a country. The food stored by members in America or Europe, for example, may not be part of the local diet where the disaster has taken place. And there is often very little time for gathering and packing. Usually when we send commodities, we draw on items already packaged and ready for shipment. In many cases it is more practical and cheaper to buy commodities in the area and distribute them immediately where they are needed. In addition, certain foods cannot be shipped into selected countries. It is generous of members to want to donate what they have at hand, but it is always disappointing if they gather a lot of donations that we can’t get into a country.

Q: How is it that Church shipments seem to get through so quickly and effectively?

A: They are carefully packed for the safest, most effective immediate transport. The Church is viewed as an excellent relief agency in the world because of the quality of our response in disaster situations, and a part of that response is our ability to pull together a local delivery system using members under priesthood direction. And we have learned to work well with other relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, knowing that the Church is only a part of the solution in any emergency situation. Sometimes our shipments are distributed through these agencies. The organization that the Church provides worldwide makes us the envy of many other disaster response organizations.

Q: In addition to donating to the humanitarian fund, what are some other ways members might help?

A: There are nearly 50 Deseret Industries stores, spread over seven states in the western United States: Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Much of the clothing donated to these stores is eventually baled for shipment to areas where there is an emergency need. We distributed 13 million pounds of clothing last year in about 50 countries. We’re always in need of warm winter clothing, and we always need children’s clothing. We also send out with each shipment a quantity of used shoes.

Q: What can members do if they don’t live near a Deseret Industries store?

A: They can put together personal hygiene kits, school kits, or newborn kits and deliver or send them to a bishops’ storehouse. These three items are in great demand around the world. We never have enough of them. Members can obtain directions for producing these kits by calling 801-240-6060 or by writing the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center, 1665 Bennett Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84104. They can also find the directions for the kits through the Church’s Internet site www.lds.org. On the home page, they should click successively on “Other Resources,” then “LDS Foundation,” “Ways I Can Give,” “Welfare Services and Humanitarian Aid,” and finally “How Can I Help with Humanitarian Service Projects?” The information can also be obtained at www.desnews.com/cn/humanitarian/guidelines.htm. We’ve tried to match our hygiene kits very closely to emergency kits that the United Nations or other organizations would offer, so it is important to follow the directions carefully.

We also have a constant need for quilts and blankets. We will take infant receiving blankets and quilts in any size, any color, any time.

Q: Are there other needed items members could donate?

A: It is possible some members might know of bulk medical supplies that could be donated. These would be useful in the emergency medical modules we keep on hand. We put together 700-pound medical modules that can be shipped immediately to an area where an emergency exists. These modules include 25 basic items that can be used by any hospital—things like gauze and bandage material, sterile gloves, syringes, stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, surgical gowns, and soap.

“Could I Be Your Friend For Life?”

Not long ago, Humanitarian Services received this report from Sister Norma Smith, serving in Indonesia with her husband, Richard, as a missionary with a humanitarian assignment. After visits to two orphanages, Sister Smith received a call from the director of one. Verifying that the missionaries were Christians, the director of the orphanage asked again about the work of Latter-day Saint Charities, and then “she inquired, ‘But why would you come to a Muslim orphanage? Don’t you hate us because of the bombings of Christian churches [in Indonesia]?’ I told her that she didn’t bomb the churches and expressed how grateful I was for her service to the children and the great work she is doing. She said, ‘But I just don’t understand. No Christian has ever offered to help us.’ I told her that our church believes in helping all people, no matter what their religion. She thanked me again and again, then said, ‘Mrs. Smith, could I be your friend for life?’” Sister Smith ended her report: “Life can’t get any better than this!”

Church Humanitarian Service Since 1985

Cash donations: more than $73 million

Value of material assistance: more than $370 million

Countries of service: 147

Food distributed: nearly 39,000 tons (more than 35,000,000 kilos)

Surplus clothing distributed: nearly 44,000 tons (more than 40,000,000 kilos)

Garry R. Flake. (Photo by Don Searle.)