Mid-Atlantic Mormons organize unprecedented 'Day to Serve'

By Laurie SnowTurner

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The need for food in just the Fairfax County area of Virginia has shot up more than 200 percent in the last year because of challenging economic conditions, According to Cecilia Vergaretti, senior director of the Capital Area Food Bank.

Realizing that one in four Americans are considered “food insecure,” meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from, Elder Gerard told church leaders in the area decided to focus primarily on hunger.

To help coordinate the effort and inform participants, organizers created a website called daytoserve.org with an interactive map that had a pin for each community service project planned. That map populated slowly, and then exploded by the final day to include about 750 pins representing 750 service projects in this wide swath of the country. Projects ranged from food drives at college football games in West Virginia to 5K races in Baltimore, a community “hunger summit” that called together government and faith groups in Virginia to help end hunger, and multi-faith food drives in Washington, D.C.

Elder Gerard and Elder Lansing asked that all members of the LDS Church focus their efforts on the hungry. Each Mormon ward in the region also was asked to reach out to a local food pantry to learn how they could help meet the increasing needs for food in their communities. Members also were authorized to introduce the food pantry directors to the church’s humanitarian services, which include offering $1,000 worth of goods from the local bishop’s storehouses to local pantries in need.

The McLean Second Ward in the McLean Virginia Stake reached out to Food for Others, a food distribution organization in Fairfax, Va., and planned to escort a representative from that organization to the bishop’s storehouse in Upper Marlboro, Md., to pick up $1,000 worth of foods of their choice to meet the needs of some of their clients. This is just one of the many donations like this.

In Oakton Virginia Stake, 730 volunteers — including those of other faiths — collected more than 12,000 pounds of food through food drives, a 5K race and a Day to Serve Relay with runners taking different lengths of the 45-mile Washington and Old Dominion Trail. In Annapolis, 46,000 pounds of food were donated and collected by following the ward's home teaching pattern and organizing families to work together in specific areas of the community.

The Fredricksburg Virginia Stake reported having 1,300 volunteers who contributed a total of 5,000 hours of service and collected about 34,000 pounds of food. Seneca Maryland Stake’s Olney First Ward teamed up with Bait-ur-Rahman Mosque of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community to gather food for HELP. The Buena Vista Virginia Stake installed shelves in a food relief association and prepared and served dinner to Community Table. The Richmond Virginia Midlothian Stake collected 1,000 books for a book bank and 10,000 diapers for needy families with infants.

In addition to the local outreach by members of more than 300 congregations of the church, the Humanitarian Services department of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City sent six semi-trucks full of food to major regional food banks selected by the governors and the mayor. Each truckload of food was valued between $30,000 and $40,000.

Nancy Smith at the Maryland Food Bank, one of the recipients of a truckload of food, said, “We thank the LDS Church for their generous gift of food. Not only is it the kind of food we desperately need, this donation will help many families in our state who continue to struggle.”

Gov. Tomblin of West Virginia asked that all football games played in the state on Sept. 29 be dedicated to Day to Serve. Throughout the week prior, as part of homecoming activities, students and alumni at West Virginia University were donating food at the student union in the heart of campus. During the school's homecoming game Saturday between WVU and Baylor, they set up a tent for a food drive.

Overwhelming success

Golightly, of the D.C. area public affairs office, volunteered to tabulate the results of the “Day to Serve” projects and was overwhelmed with the amount of information she received. She thought she could summarize all the data over the weekend but received so many reports from so many successful service projects that she said it would take her several days to get the final estimates of how much good was done on this one day.

“I was between tears and smiles all day long as I received such inspiring reports from so many people,” she said.

“By any measure, this was an enormous, unprecedented success," Elder Lansing said, "We made so many new friends by simply doing what we do best: serving Jesus Christ and inviting others to join us. We’ve already been told by the governors' offices that they’re ready to do it again next year, so we won’t have a lot of down time before we start planning our Day to Serve for 2013.”

A “Day to Serve” exhibit is now being planned for the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center to highlight the interfaith efforts and the countless heartwarming stories behind the numbers, Gerard said.

Laurie Snow Turner is a writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She blogs at lauriesnowturner.com.

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