For $50 you and your family can drive to Park City tonight, eat a spaghetti dinner in a cool resort town setting and build a house in Peru.
How's that for a small world?
The Park City singles branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is offering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on behalf of one of its own, 31-year-old Liliana Puma, a Peruvian who moved to Utah 10 months ago for an internship with Marriott Mountainside. Liliana is studying hotel management at Lima's Columbia Institute and two months ago woke up to the news that a massive earthquake had leveled her hometown of Chincha Alta in central Peru.
Upon hearing what happened, Liliana managed to quickly contact her parents via radio. She heaved a sigh of relief when she learned they were unhurt, as was the rest of the family.
But then came the bad news: their house was among the 60,000 in the Chincha region that were destroyed.Liliana couldn't go home again and neither could anyone else.
On Aug. 16, the day the earthquake hit, it happened that the aforementioned singles branch was on a camping trip in Jackson, Wyo.
Fellow members of the branch felt Liliana's pain as they watched her wrestle with her grief.
It would make a great story to tell that as they sat around the campfire they decided then and there they would go to Peru and build Liliana's family a new house.
It would also be true.
Ben Dilts was there and remembers the mood.
"Liliana was distraught," he says. "I remember her telling us it was the end of winter in Peru. Here we were, diving off cliffs into the river, and down there they were homeless and cold. Naturally we started talking about what we could do."
Dave Allen, a member of the branch bishopric, recalls how quickly the discussion progressed.
"First somebody suggested we ought to put together a service project to raise money," he says. "Then, within I'd say two to three minutes, somebody was saying we ought to go down there. And everybody agreed."
In two weeks, at least 13 members of the branch, including the entire bishopric, will leave for Peru. They're all paying their own way, either with frequent flier miles or hard, cold cash.
They plan to spend nine days in Chincha erecting the house under the supervision of a local builder. And if tonight's benefit dinner and other fund-raising efforts go as hoped, they will have already wired money to the builder for supplies.
A new house will cost $15,000 in materials, they've been told. Plus labor, which will not be a problem.
"I'm so grateful, this is a miracle," says Liliana, who will accompany the group and surprise her family.
"They know the rest are coming but they don't know I'm coming," she says, smiling, "My father said to me, 'stay there, do your work."'
Instead she's going home to do her work, with recruits.Tonight's dinner and auction will begin at 6:30 p.m. at 2300 Monitor Drive in Park City. For more information or to donate online, go to www.projectpuma.org.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.