CENTERVILLE — When Elder Cedric Laurens left his home in Paris a few weeks ago to begin his work across the globe in the Utah Salt Lake City Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he didn't quite expect to be stuffing neck pillows as part of the assignment.
But there he was on a recent Tuesday morning, putting the stuffing into a horseshoe-shaped neck pillow that eventually would find its way to a hospital or other setting to provide a little comfort to a patient he would never meet.
He was one of a large group of missionaries on this particular Tuesday who were doing such things as tying quilts, cutting out pajamas and ponchos and doing other acts of service in the Centerville Utah South Stake Humanitarian Center. They were responding to a directive from mission leaders that they should make regular service a part of their mission calls.
"I didn't know I would be doing this," said Elder Laurens, tucking a bit of stuffing into his pillow to give it shape, "but I love it. It was a nice surprise."
Sister Skai Wahl of Holbrook, Arizona, puts stuffing in a neck pillow as part of her service at the South Centerville Stake Humanitarian Center. | Twila Van Leer
He was joined at the table where the pillows were stacked high by Sister Skai Wahl of Holbrook, Arizona. "This is a way to let people know we care," she said.
Across the cultural hall, Elder Zach ("well, Zechariah, like in the Bible") Tame was putting ties into a quilt that likely was headed to a Central Salt Lake City refugee assistance project. Those at the Centerville Center are currently working to provide at least a hundred quilts for the refugees, as well as 100 coats, boots and other needs.
"The Humanitarian Center is awesome," said the missionary from Pittsburgh. "It helps us to meet new people and do service at the same time."
Working nearby at another quilt frame was Sister Rebekah Beals of Pima, Arizona, a "pro" who had worked with her mother and other Relief Society sisters on quilts in her ward before leaving on her mission. Her co-worker was Elder Daniel ("just like in the Bible") Spaulding of South Carolina, who was, he admitted, "no pro" at quilt-tying.
"I don't know how to do it yet, but I'm enjoying it," he said, plying his needle with enthusiasm.
Humanitarian Center leaders gladly put Elders Daniel ("like in the Bible") Tufui of Tonga and Noah (like in the Bible) Staley of Oahu, Hawaii, to work on the heavy-duty job of cutting coarse material for ponchos.
"It's nice to be able to help out," said Tufui. "This is a good use of our mission time."
Elders Daniel Tufui, left, of Tonga, and Elder Noah Staley of Oahu, Hawaii, roll heavy fabric and prepare to cut ponchos during their regular service time in the South Centervillle Stake Humanitarian Center. | Twila Van Leer
Staley, who was just a week into his mission during this June visit, echoed the sentiment. "We are serving just as Christ did."
At another table, Elder Matthew (just like in the Bible) Butler of Palatine, Illinois, was receiving instructions from Margaret Murphy, one of the Humanitarian Center committee members, on the fine art of cutting pajama bottoms. He paraphrased LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson that "no mission can reach its full potential until missionaries and members are working together."
The Centerville South Stake humanitarian project is probably unique in the church, said LuJean Clark, who is the assigned leader over the center housed in the stake headquarters.
Stake President John Hollingshead promoted an expanded service opportunity about five years ago, something that would go beyond the usual service performed by most of the wards in the church. There was an empty room in the stake center and he designated it specifically for service projects.
The beginnings were inauspicious, Clark said. Sometimes, she and two other women were the only ones to show up to the weekly work sessions. But as the word spread through the wards in the stake, the number of people participating grew. Now, on a given Tuesday, 25 to 30 "regulars" are on hand to help with the work. When there are special projects, such as Christmas bags for needy children (more than 400 last Christmas) are under way, the number blooms. Many who don't actively participate in the work donate materials and cash to support the program.
"We never have to buy materials for quilts," Clark said. (And the quilt-tyers at the center complete 10 to 12 every week.) Baskets full of yarn and other miscellaneous donations always find a purpose at the center.
The scope of the program has grown as well. Projects at the Centerville center now benefit more than a dozen charitable causes, including Huntsman Cancer Center; women's, refugee and homeless centers; local children's' hospitals; and the Festival of Trees. Special projects have provided hygiene kits for young women in Africa, mastectomy pads that fit under the armpit and ease patients' pain, kitchen kits for women leaving shelters, newborn kits and hats, scarfs and other cold-weather gear, and the list goes on.
The payoff? Clark points to the thank-you notes that come from grateful recipients who develop a feeling of kinship with the Centerville center and express gratitude for the Christ-like service they have received.