Try to imagine 20 million pounds of food such as beans, pasta, cheese, potatoes — all packed onto gargantuan pallets.
It’s hard to picture something so vast, even for a person like me who spent a career in food distribution. But there it all was in warehouses, storage facilities and trucks, being mobilized to help people during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As needs continued, so, too, did the global response of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spanning across 155 countries and eventually becoming the largest single humanitarian effort in the church’s history. All told, the church has distributed more than 150 million pounds of food and commodities to people in need during the pandemic.
At the core of true religion is a charge to care for others, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry and to heal the sick. But for people of faith the response must not stop there.
Noted New York Times columnist David Brooks recently documented a number of concerning trends in the United States: automobile accidents are spiking due to irresponsible driving; reports of altercations on airplanes, in cities and even in schools are climbing; drug overdoses and substance abuse are increasing. According to Brooks, all this is happening as charitable giving and participation in civic and religious organizations continues to decline.
He concludes: “There must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this.” It’s vitally important to help communities prepare for crises and to lend temporal assistance when disasters strike. But people of faith also understand that we cannot live on bread alone, and, in times of need, we need spiritual as well as temporal sustenance.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey took the lives of 107 people and caused an estimated $125 billion in property damage. Water levels rose so high in certain areas that boats were necessary to rescue residents. With emergency lines jammed, a group of Latter-day Saints and neighbors gathered at a nearby chapel with their boats to begin picking up distressed residents around Houston. By day two of the efforts, some 57 boats and over 800 volunteers were working out of the makeshift dispatch.
But that was only the beginning of the work.