Mormon Food Bank Tracks Depth Of Recession
ALEX COHEN, host:
This is Day to Day, I'm Alex Cohen.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, Dr. Sydney Spiesel on how to treat kids with sensory integration disorder.
COHEN: But first, faith-based charities are helping many Americans stay afloat during this recession. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints runs one of the country's most elaborate private welfare systems.
BRAND: Over the last year, the Mormon Church has seen a 20 percent increase in demand for services. At the heart of their program are food banks that don't look like food banks. Gloria Hillard visited one in East Los Angeles.
GLORIA HILLARD: Outside, rumbling trucks compete with the pounding bass of car stereos, but enter the double-glass doors of this nondescript building in East L.A., and you'll be greeted by soft music and a cheerful welcome.
Unidentified Woman #1: If you can't find something, ask us.
Unidentified Woman #2: OK, thank you.
Unidentified Woman #1: OK?
HILLARD: A dozen or so families with shopping carts inch their way past the fresh produce section, dairy case and neatly stacked bread shelves. New brooms sticking out of a large cardboard box suggest more general store than supermarket. So does Bud Fox, who is stocking brightly labeled, canned fruits and vegetables on the shelf.
Mr. BUD FOX (Manager, Bishop's Store House): Corn, green beans and peas, spaghetti sauce and she's putting up peaches, apricots, pears, - the pears are the best. Oh, they're good.
HILLARD: But Fox is a Mormon and manager of this grocery store with no cash register. It's called a bishop's store house. It looks nothing like a food bank and Fox says, that's important to the people who come here.
Mr. FOX: Because they're in a very stressed situation, either work or illness or some kind of problem in their life, and we want to make it just as comfortable as possible.
HILLARD: Forty-seven-year-old Chris Stone is a church member and recently laid-off audio engineer.
Mr. CHRIS STONE (Church Member): I'm one of very, very many people that are new to the whole unemployment thing. I've worked very hard my entire career, and it wasn't up until this past year that things started to really get pretty tough.
HILLARD: This bishop's store house serves 50,000 church members in Southern California. Everyone picking out food on this day is Mormon. But what about someone who's not?
So if I walked in today, said I needed some help...
HILLARD: Church leader Larry Larson says those receiving assistance, Mormons and non-church members alike, would be required to meet with a bishop.
Mr. LARRY LARSON (Church Leader): According to the bishop's discretion and feeling, then they would be able to provide for them and order to come and receive some assistance.
HILLARD: The church says they keep no figures on how many non-church members they serve, but Larson says no one in need of food would be turned away. They might be counseled to use the church's employment services or volunteer their time. Most of the food in this bishop's store house comes from church-owned farms, orchards and dairies. The bags of flour, the boxed pasta and canned goods are delivered from Mormon canneries and plants around the country. And just next door, there's a cannery used in good times and bad. Women in hairnets are busy filling number 10 cans with dried beans, macaroni and powdered milk. Melissa Burnett is packing...
Ms. MELISSA BURNETT: Onions, dried onions.
HILLARD: It's the young mother's first hand at canning.
Ms. BURNETT: It was really feeling like, you know, the economy is bad, you know, you just never know what's going to happen. So, it's really important for us to get food storage for our family in case of financial crisis or, you know, natural disasters, anything like that, especially for our kids. We just don't want them to be without.
HILLARD: The bishop's store house provides assistance for short-term needs, but church leader Larson says members are also encouraged to keep a three-month supply of food staples on hand in case of emergencies.
Mr. LARSON: We're looking to store food to help people around us as well as our own families. So, it's been a principle of the church since 1936.
Ms. JOAN SHIPS (Historian): Well, why it works is that they've been doing it for a long time.
HILLARD: Historian Joan Ships(ph) is an expert on the Mormon church.
Ms. SHIPS: This program started during the Great Depression. It has been carried on even through the good times. And that's important because it's been carried on even through the good times, and now the bad times come and it works even more.
HILLARD: Ships says the essence of the program, what makes it work, are the member themselves, like 79-year-old Jim Brown. He and his wife have been here at the bishop's store House helping out every Saturday of the last year.
Mr. JIM BROWN: It's actually a church calling as well, but it is, it's enjoyable serving the people.
HILLARD: And with nearly 6 million church members nationwide, well, that's a lot of volunteers. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.