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Welfare program impacts Mormons in different ways

Published: Monday, April 4 2011 9:30 a.m. MDT

Lauren Truman, Golden Colo., and her conference companion Thomas Wall, New York, now both BYU students, both had been involved in welfare projects before leaving for missions. She worked in a church cannery near her home in Colorado, canning potatoes as a ward assignment and never wondering particularly at the time where they would go. He was part of a project to assemble hygiene kits while in a missionary training center. After spending two years in Paraguay, he said, he had a better appreciation for the very real needs that are met through the church welfare programs.

Annie Banza, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, emigrated to the United States 11 years ago. "We had no money, no jobs, nothing. I would go to my Relief Society president and she would take me to the bishop's storehouse so I could get help for my family. It is an inspired program, a great blessing." The temporary help aided Banza and her husband in improving their lives. She became a nurse and was able to assist her sister, Pamela Muyanna, in coming to the United States two years ago. And life for the Banza's 9-year-old daughter Cynthia, likely never will be so challenging.

Mark Olsen, 12, of Bend, Ore., was attending the Sunday afternoon session in a family tradition that provides a Salt Lake conference opportunity to new priesthood holders. He proved that the welfare experience begins early. With his Boy Scout group, he had distributed empty bags in his neighborhood and returned to gather up donations that would aid needy area residents. He also helped plan, prepare and serve a meal to homeless in the Bethlehem Inn homeless shelter in Bend. As a bonus, one of those who were fed later joined the church, he said.

Tuafono Sheppard and Graham O'Brien of the Tongan ward in Seattle, Wash., said leaders in their area had focused on family preparedness. "That has been very important to us," Sheppard said. Every ward and every family has been contacted and assisted in preparing for any potential emergency. Although the Seattle area has not experienced any significant natural disasters, O'Brien said, the readiness was invaluable when winter storms caused disruptions in normal living. Those who were prepared were able to assist those who lacked the essentials for a short period, he said. The long-standing custom of donating fast offerings also assures that those in need will be provided for, Sheppard said.

Laura Carcona-Kaestner, who was born in Guatemala, moved to San Diego as an 11-year-old and filled a mission on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, said she particularly liked opportunities to speak to visitors at the church's Welfare Square facilities. "They were shocked at what the church does, its quiet service," she said. She also said she is grateful for the services that have been provided in her native land of Guatemala in times of need. An aunt who had not been active in the church for many years was severely affected when floods created havoc in her area, Carcona-Kaestner said. The aunt's disaffection from the church was never an issue in the effort to meet the needs she and others in her area had. "We must always find way to help members and nonmembers."

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