MILLCREEK — At the Manna Market, a long line of diverse people wait in line for fresh produce, bread and canned goods. Some are senior citizens, babes in arms, laborers and busy moms.
On the other side of the tables outside Mosaic Inter-Faith Ministries center, 4392 S. 900 East, are an equally diverse group of volunteers providing food and clothing and a healthy dose of hope to people in need of nourishment and encouragement.
That's one goal, says Dr. Leslie Whited, executive director of the nonprofit organization started by Evangelical Lutheran Church of America lay people in Utah "who were really involved in their congregations and wanted to start a social justice outreach." The ministry is now 21 years old.
The other goal is to create relationships that eventually result in people enrolling in the center's programs that help people find meaningful employment, wellness, English as a Second Language instruction, or help youths integrate into higher education and, one of its original programs, which provides in-home care for senior citizens provided by certified nursing assistants at affordable rates. The center also operates a food pantry.
The ministry reaches some 100,000 people a year through its various programs, Whited said.
To some, Mosaic Inter-Faith Ministries is a hand up. But for many people, such as Valentino Montez, volunteering at the nonprofit organization is an opportunity to give back and to help his own healing.
Montez, who is from New Mexico, is living in a Christian sober living home in Midvale called Victory Outreach. Program participants volunteer at the food give-away weekly.
"It's a good place to be, just to help people. I like to do that," said Montez, lifting a box of food.
"It's a lot of different people, different races, different religions or whatnot."
Maria, a mother of three who did not want to provide her last name, said Manna Market helps make ends meet on a modest income. Her parents will be staying with her from Mexico as they go through the process of becoming legal residents, which will pinch her budget a bit more.
"I come because they give me plenty of food," she said.
Some people are regulars, but about 60 percent of people who seek nutrition assistance each week are new faces, Whited said.
While food assistance is one of Mosaic Inter-Faith's programs, Whited said she considers it a place of peace.
It serves people from across the globe and a wide spectrum of religious traditions, including the world's largest faith groups, people who are searching and even people who have no particular faith but believe in serving others.
On any given day, one can meet people who are Baha'i, Buddhist, Latter-day Saints, Hindu, historical Christian faiths, Humanitarian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, natural-indigenous faiths, spiritual but not religious, and no known faith expression.
"It's a place where you can bring all that you are, including your faith, and you'll be welcomed. But when you reach out, you will be getting things that will change your life and help you become an independent, interdependent person in society," she said.
For many people, the help they receive comes full circle once they obtain training and employment that helps stabilize their households, Whited said.
One man standing in line at Thursday's Manna Market, Dimitrius, said he gets help with food when he's struggling. Other times, he walks across the street from his apartment to volunteer.
"I like the diversity of all the different people, that's the attraction to me. Everybody's talking their own language," he said.
Mosaic Inter-Faith is supported by private donors, corporations, religious partners, government funds and fundraising.
In addition to about a dozen paid staff and 48 certified nursing assistants, Mosaic Inter-Faith relies on volunteers and neighbors who have been welcoming and generous, Whited said.
Christy and Bob Blodgett, who volunteered in Africa with Mothers Without Borders early on in their retirements, decided their next volunteer experience would be with refugees in Utah.
The Sandy couple landed at Mosaic Inter-Faith Ministries because they appreciate its spirit of compassion and direct service, Christy Blodgett said.
Their own efforts on behalf of Mosaic Inter-Faith are also supported by generous friends and family in their own neighborhood.
"We put the word out with a newsletter and fliers and let people know what is needed from week to week here. It shows up at my door. I don't have to worry too much if I need a washer and a dryer or if I need table lamps or clothes or shoes.
"A wonderful Armenian organization found out about us and just dropped off 400 pairs of shoes," she said.
Whited, who spent most of her career in diaconal and interfaith ministry, joined the nonprofit as its director in its second year. The program, started by local churches of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was formerly called Lutheran Social Service of Utah.
The organization has been recognized locally and nationally for its work, including Utah's Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian and Justice Agency Award in 2011, and more recently, the Nia Imani Association Community Leadership Agency Award presented at Community Lutheran Church in Los Angeles this spring.
While Whited has been the organization's longtime leader, she is uncomfortable being singled out "because it takes a collective" to meet the needs of the community and to support its programs, she says.
Mosaic Inter-Faith strives to provide help and encouragement in a welcoming environment but also to help people achieve their personal goals, recognizing many clients have lived through civil wars, extreme poverty and even abuse.
"I'd say 80 percent of the people we work with have some form of PTSD," she said.
So Mosaic Inter-Faith Ministries helps them pick up the pieces and relaunch their lives, whether that means a soothing massage offered by its Green Water Health Center, help finding work through its More Blue Sky Employment Center or simply having a safe and welcoming space to plan what's next in their lives.
"It's a place of peace, a lot of peace," she said.
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