The director of the world's largest humanitarian food program visited some of the welfare facilities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Friday afternoon and declared himself very impressed.
James T. Morris, executive director for the United Nations World Food Program, toured the LDS Church's Welfare Square, Humanitarian Center, Temple Square and Conference Center in Salt Lake City on a whirlwind four-hour excursion.
"I was very impressed. It was quite remarkable," Morris said.
Morris believes the LDS Church's welfare plan is a perfect example of how the poor and needy should be helped.
"The most impressive thing is (church members) living out their faith and commitment."
Many talk about having faith, but he said faithful Latter-day Saints live what they preach.
He was also impressed by the church's once-a-month fast day, in which members skip several meals and then donate what they would have spent on food to the needy.
"If we all made a little sacrifice, there would be no hungry people," he said. "If others did what the Mormon Church does, the (hunger) problem could be solved."
Morris said he's been aware of the church's welfare program all his life, but this was his first close-up look at how the system works.
He came to Salt Lake as a "thank you" visit after the church donated $1 million two years ago toward famine relief in South Africa.
While that has been the church's only major contribution to the U.N. Food Program, the two groups have worked side-by-side over the years, providing relief to many areas.
Morris said he's now going to look at more ways to work together with the church.
"There are all sorts of ways for us to work together better," he said.
Garry R. Flake, director of Humanitarian Emergency Response for the LDS Church, said for the U.N. World Food Program to consider the church as a partner is "a great compliment to the church."
Flake said Morris was not able to meet with President Gordon B. Hinckley during this short visit. However, he can tell President Hinckley that he "has a great Presbyterian admirer."
He said Morris also wanted to advise the church to not only keep doing what it's doing, but to better publicize its welfare efforts. Morris was also interested in the way the church mixed up a nutritious meal base to help with the severe hunger needs in Africa.
Welfare Square, 751 W. 700 South, includes a 178-foot tall grain elevator, a storehouse, bakery, cannery, a milk processing operation, a thrift store and an employment center all designed to help people help themselves.
The Humanitarian Center, 1665 S. Bennett Road (2030 West), assembles shipments of clothing, blankets, medical supplies and educational materials to be sent to the needy throughout the world.
From 1985 to 2003 the LDS Church's Humanitarian Services provided more than $643 million in total assistance to needy individuals in 154 countries.
Headquartered in Rome, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is the largest single program of the United Nations. It began in 1963 and fed 104 million people in 81 different countries last year.
"We're very good at targeting the hungriest," Morris said.
However the total number of hungry people in the world is estimated to be some 840 million people.
"Twenty-five thousand people die every day from hunger in the world," he said.
The WFP receives 57 percent of its funding from the United States government. Another 30 percent or more comes from other nations' governments, and the rest from private and business sources.
Much of the WFP's efforts are emergency response to natural and man-made disasters. He said the WFP had a huge presence in Iraq, though that is starting to wind down now. It's also working strong in North Korea, Afghanistan and Africa.
Morris said AIDS continues to be a huge related problem, killing many parents, who leave hungry children.
"If a person is well-nourished, they're better able to resist (disease). Food is critically important," he said.
Morris said the WFP can take $35 and feed a child for that amount throughout the school year in many countries. An extra $1 can keep them parasite-free.
Information is available online at: www.wfp.org.
E-mail: [email protected]