(These sisters) are doing everything they can possibly do. They only had a couple of months, but we got them done. That really is amazing. —Mary Louise Mortensen
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect new information.
ST. GEORGE — When the call for service came to Mary Louise Mortensen on March 28, she rallied the support of some unlikely heroes — the women who live with her in the Spring Gardens Assisted Living complex in St. George.
Though the women have various physical challenges and disabilities — some are in a wheelchair and some have limited functionality of their hands — they pooled their resources to make temple bags for the LDS sisters living in West Africa.
It was because of the keen observations of a senior sister missionary, Sister Karen Cooper who serves in the Accra Ghana Temple, that Jennifer Slater, Mortensen's former stake Relief Society president, recommended her home stake to help.
Slater is living in Ghana with her husband, Marty Slater, who works as an attorney for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Four wards in Slater's home Stake, the Washington Utah Buena Vista Stake, joined the effort, including the sisters at Spring Gardens.
Many women from the countries surrounding Ghana take a multi-day bus trip to the Accra Ghana Temple, one of two temples in West Africa. Sister Cooper observed that the women were using the same plastic sacks their Mormon temple clothes were purchased in to bring their clothes on return trips to the temple.
"(Sister Slater) knew the sisters (at home) would be willing to help," said Mortensen.
And they were.
Despite what are in some cases severe disabilities, the sisters of Spring Gardens Assisted Living were thrilled to help — even resident Beada Hill, who has rheumatoid arthritis and only has one fully functioning finger on each hand.
Mortensen, who spearheaded the project with the encouragement of Slater, approached the CEO of Spring Gardens, Jim White.
Mortensen said White backed her idea to create an area within Spring Gardens for the women to assemble the bags.
“‘Anything that we needed,' Jim told me," Mortensen said. "They were putting their resources on the line."
Diane Johnson, who also lives in Spring Gardens, went to the residents asking them to participate in the service project.
"Diane is the one who (involved) the individual sisters. She went around and got them signed up and got what they needed," Mortensen said. "She was the catalyst."
Hill, Ruth Coles, Carol Smith, Karen Knight, Charlene Schermerhorn, Jan Cordova and Becky Evans offered their services, collected sewing machines and extra material from home and began working on the bags.
Mortensen, who is unable to construct the bags because of her shaky hands, helped orchestrate the event and provide encouragement and support to the other sisters. She also acted as the liaison between St. George and Ghana by updating Slater.
And suddenly, Mortensen said, the heart-felt service started materializing before her eyes.
"All of the sudden we had sisters setting up and sewing bags," she said. "In the end, we made 50."
Cori McEwen, lead concierge over admissions for Spring Gardens, said that the women helped wherever they could.
One woman could only match the material together to make sure the colors would go together, she said. One could only pin. But every small contribution added to the end result.
"To be able to have them see what they could do was great," McEwen said.
These sisters were able to contribute to the 300 total temple bags that have been constructed and sent from other LDS Relief Societies in St. George, said Mortensen.
Mortensen said she wanted music to play during the service project.
She taught organ lessons to the residents for a time, including Hill.
"Beada has an instrument that extends her one finger and hand on the organ so she can reach up and push the buttons."
Mortensen said this is the type of dedication that defined the entire project.
"(These sisters) are doing everything they can possibly do. They only had a couple of months, but we got them done. That really is amazing."
The bags were completed in June and sent to the African Saints in mid-July.
In addition to gratitude from across the seas, the sisters at Spring Gardens have gained confidence that they are still able to help those in need, Mortensen said.
"A lot of people here, not just the women, don't feel they can contribute to society any more because of their limitations," McEwen said. "To see the product and to see the people that had received it brought back new life (to the residents). They know they still have worth."
Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock