FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Hundreds of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Fredericksburg, Va., area gathered on Saturday, Sept. 24, to clean riverbanks and local historical sites. Other volunteers, including those of other faiths, also made blankets for children as part of an Eagle Scout project, while still others packed boxes with microwavable meals and snack items on behalf of soldiers in need.
On that same day, Latter-day Saints in Culpepper, Va., helped provide services for a family involved in a serious automobile accident, while other Mormons in that community helped provide firewood and home repairs for the needy.
"We called our day of service 'Helping Hands through History' because we originally envisioned cleaning up the rich historical sites in our area," said Fredericksburg Virginia Stake President Mike Kitchens, who oversees the area's 14 local congregations. "We went beyond that original mission statement and reached out with efforts to help those living today who stand in need."
By midday, 175 blankets had been made for the Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center in Fredericksburg, which caters to abused and neglected children, while more than 1,700 pounds of trash had been removed from the banks of the Rappahannock River. The boxes of food will be shipped by the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project to a military unit in Iraq.
In other parts of Virginia outside the Fredericksburg region, church members helped serve in many ways, including reclaiming an overgrown cemetery, helping to feed the homeles and restocking a food assistance center among other projects.
“We are committed to being good neighbors. The questions we ask in prayer are ‘Who would you have us help and how would you have us help them?’ ” Kitchens said. One of those who helped out during Saturday's effort was Linda Mattes, who took several of her children out to pick up trash along the Rappahannock riverbank while her husband Scott, who is recuperating from an ankle injury, worked indoors with their other children on the Eagle Scout blanket project.
“One of the residents came over to us and thanked us. He told us that he also picked up litter on the weekends. Then he showed us a wondrous site. We all stopped to look as he pointed out a large turtle on top of a log in the canal below us. The turtle's head was stretched up high like a periscope,” Mattes said. “In my mind this is what heaven will be like, purposefully working side-by-side with family and friends, visiting, laughing, creating order and beauty. It was a great day. It was heaven.”
The Fredericksburg area is home to more than 4,800 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The area was the childhood home of George Washington, and during the Revolutionary War period, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom there, a document that became the basis for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many Civil War battles were fought in and around the community in the 1860s.
One of the sites church members helped clean on Saturday was Chatham Manor, a site now operated by the U.S. Park Service that was often frequented by George Washington. That historic mansion later served as a Union Army command post during the Civil War.
"In 1862, during the Civil War’s infamous Battle of Marye's Heights, a young man named Richard Kirkland risked his life by providing water to wounded soldiers regardless if they were friend or enemy. His heroic service was later immortalized with a statue of him cradling another soldier in his arms. It's that image that we chose for our Facebook page, providing an added inspiration for us to help others," said Brad Sant, a counselor in the stake presidency.
The statewide "Mormon Helping Hands" events in Virginia helped commemorate the 75th anniversary of the faith's welfare program, which began during the dark days of the Great Depression. Earlier this year, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency in Salt Lake City, asked church members worldwide to plan and participate in a "day of service" this year as part of that anniversary.
In August, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statewide proclamation establishing Sept. 24 as a day of service and noting that, “2011 marks the 75th anniversary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ welfare program, an effort which has improved the lives of countless individuals in our Commonwealth, these United States, and throughout the world, and which should be a model to all organizations and faiths as we work together to build a true Commonwealth of Opportunity."