Relief Society assists Catholics in providing service for the needy

In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Relief Society, members of the Hamilton 2nd Ward Relief Society entered into the worldwide spirit of making their community better.

Their efforts culminated in February with an unprecedented event. Two hundred people - about 30 of them LDS and the rest Catholic - gathered at the LDS meetinghouse for a service and dinner honoring volunteers of the Good Shepherd, a center that offers shelter, food, clothing, and counseling to needy persons in Hamilton.Who would have imagined that responding to a call to service could lead to such a historic event? It began as Relief Society sisters decorated two houses for a nonprofit organization that offers temporary homes for abused mothers and children. They made 150 Christmas stockings for children of women in prison and presented 200 ready-for-mailing Christmas cards to imprisoned women to send to families and friends.

But their happiest venture, according to Relief Society president, Marilyn Davidson, began in 1992, when they offered to provide eight people once a month - for four months - on the food line of the Good Shepherd. The Relief Society sisters would work alongside volunteers from 22 Catholic parishes. The Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd founded the center in 1951, and until the involvement of the Hamilton 2nd Ward Relief Society had no other help than from the Roman Catholic parishes.

Hamilton is a steel city of 310,000 people on the shores of Lake Ontario. Its economy is deeply distressed by recession, joblessness, and immigration. The services provided by the Good Shepherd are vital.

When the initial commitment was over, said Sister Davidson, the Relief Society sisters were asked to continue on a regular basis. The challenge was accepted, and an ongoing relationship was created. Doubts disappeared; now two groups of eight Relief Society sisters eagerly serve at the Good Shepherd each month. During the summer, the Young Men and Young Women participate five or six times. Sister Davidson meets once a month with other volunteer leaders to plan upcoming events.

On one occasion, the Relief Society baked 75 pies for a special dinner for the homeless. They put together 100 personal care bags for the poor for Christmas. Also at Christmastide, they joined other volunteers, 450 in all, to serve a sit-down dinner for 1,500 guests at the Good Shepherd. They worked in the Good Shepherd Christmas store, which assisted 6,500 needy people.

The volunteer coordinator, a member of the United Church, maintains that the Relief Society sisters can be asked to do anything, and it will be accomplished.

No wonder a level of trust was established that prompted the Little Brothers to request their potluck awards dinner for volunteers on Feb. 2 be held at the LDS Church. For the first time in its 43-year history, the dinner would not include the traditional Mass. The Relief Society sisters prayerfully planned for months, determined to make this a memorable occasion, acceptable and inspirational to all. Above everything else, they did not want to offend their friends.

Since the motto of the Good Shepherd is "Charity Unlimited," the theme was obvious - "Charity Never Faileth," the motto of Relief Society.

Hamilton Stake Pres. Garry Rayner presided at the service, welcomed the overflow congregation, and offered the benediction. Bishop Darren Heyland conducted the meeting. The program focused on compassionate service. Songs like "Hands from Heaven," "If I Can Help Someone," and "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" emphasized that theme, as did the remarks by Rent Binning, a counselor in the Canada Toronto West Mission, who spoke of the Savior.

During the dinner, dancers from the McNab Senior Center provided entertainment. As the Young Men and Young Women of the ward waited on tables and helped to set up and clear the cultural hall, they, too, benefited from an opportunity to serve.

Sister Davidson and three of her friends were stricken with cancer in the autumn of 1992. She alone survived, though she has lost a part of her lungs. Justifiably, she could have slowed her pace after the surgery. Instead, she took very little time off, and claims her health has improved as a result of her involvement.

"To work side by side with our sisters in the community is a joy that can't be explained in words," she declared. "It doesn't matter that our doctrines are different, because our goals are the same in caring for the poor and loving our Heavenly Father. People who don't serve miss so much. Thanks be to the inspiration of a wonderful Relief Society general presidency, who knew we needed the blessings of serving in our communities."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed