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‘Many Faiths, One Heart’ brings women together to serve


BOUNTIFUL, Utah — “We divided a map and started calling,” Sister Susan H. Porter recalled when asked about the beginnings of a community service project that started five years ago.

Sister Porter, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, had just been called at that time as a counselor in her stake’s Relief Society presidency.

Those first phone calls led to a meeting. The meeting led to an idea. The idea led to five years of community service activities (with a pause in 2021 due to COVID-19).

Among those who answered the calls from Sister Porter and other members of that presidency were Stacey Oliveto from St. Olaf Catholic Church, Katie Harwood from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection and Shelley Blundell from Bountiful Community Church.

Left to right: Stacey Oliveto from St. Olaf Catholic Church, Leisa Hanks from the Bountiful Utah Central Stake, Shelley Blundell from Bountiful Community Church and Katie Harwood from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection organized the Many Faiths, One Heart service project on March 19, 2022

Left to right: Stacey Oliveto from St. Olaf Catholic Church, Leisa Hanks from the Bountiful Utah Central Stake, Shelley Blundell from Bountiful Community Church and Katie Harwood from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection organized the Many Faiths, One Heart service project on March 19, 2022

Credit: Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

Blundell laughed a little when she remembered the first few meetings.

“We were all a little stiff,” she said. “But by the end of the second meeting, we were all friends.”

The group of women started by sharing what their congregations had been doing to help meet the needs of people in their community and in locations around the world.

Each woman’s congregation was unaware of what the others’ were doing. So the idea was born to have a day of service where members of each church and the surrounding community could come and serve a variety of causes.

Sister Porter said no one in the room told the others what to do.

“The question we all asked was, ‘What should we do?’” she said.

She had already seen projects like this work in other locations. Specifically, she recalled one gathering of a group representing different faiths in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve met other women who are interested in service,” she said. “This kind of thing is very doable everywhere.”

Saturday at St. Olaf

This year’s Women of Faith Service Project was hosted at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Bountiful on Saturday, March 19. Each church has taken a turn hosting the event.

Oliveto was smiling from ear to ear as she went from table to table making sure each group had what it needed to complete its projects.

Originally, she and the others thought they had more work than could be done in the three hours they had scheduled. But 45 minutes after the doors opened, one truck was already filled, and many projects were near completion.

Hundreds of women of all ages had shown up and made quick work of their service opportunities. Sister Porter brought a friend of her own to volunteer this year — President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Volunteers at the Many Faiths, One Heart service project at St. Olaf Catholic Church on March 19, 2022.

Volunteers at the Many Faiths, One Heart service project at St. Olaf Catholic Church on March 19, 2022.

Credit: Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

“I’ve lived nearby for a number of years, and I’m excited to be a volunteer today,” President Bingham said.

She and Sister Porter tried to spend time helping out with each project and talking with the other volunteers along the way.

Harwood was excited at the turnout and said, “This has been a year of rebirth.”

“We were really hoping there would be no new variant [of COVID-19] and that we’d be able to shed light on what people are already doing and what doesn’t get the attention it should.”

One example of that, she said, is the project assembling hygiene kits for the Davis School District’s Homeless Teen Centers.

“We didn’t know there was this need,” she said. “And we didn’t know it was this big.”

The group put together 400 kits for those centers — 50 for each high school served by the centers.

Supplies organized in hygiene kits are pictured at the Many Faiths, One Heart service project at St. Olaf Catholic Church on March 19, 2022.

Supplies organized in hygiene kits are pictured at the Many Faiths, One Heart service project at St. Olaf Catholic Church on March 19, 2022.

Credit: Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

“For congregations with limited resources, this kind of project carries on throughout the year,” she said.

Harwood doesn’t mean that the project itself carries on throughout the year, but that the relationships started and strengthened by participating carry on, as well.

“Some of our congregations don’t have a lot of teenage girls, so when they come together from other churches to serve with each other, that matters to them and to all of us.”

Diverse gifts, diverse service opportunities

Not everyone who wanted to serve could stay for the morning with the larger group of volunteers. But each still had a chance to participate.

One project involves making needed blankets for Afghan families who are being resettled in new homes.

Christine Streeter of the Bountiful Utah Central Stake said the project’s organizers heard about a woman who had eight large bags of leftover fleece fabric.

Streeter went to see it and was excited when the woman agreed to donate it all to help the families in need.

“Women can walk in and get a bag of fleece fabric with instructions on how to make the blanket in the correct dimensions,” she said.

The instructions she referred to came out of her own experience of making a blanket to make sure she knew exactly how to do it and how to teach others to do it.

Each volunteer will have one month to complete her blanket before the 19 of them will be donated to the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City.

Volunteers put together kits for refugees at the Many Faiths, One Heart service project at St. Olaf Catholic Church on March 19, 2022.

Volunteers put together kits for refugees at the Many Faiths, One Heart service project at St. Olaf Catholic Church on March 19, 2022.

Credit: Jon Ryan Jensen, Church News

Other projects included creating craft kits for the INN Between, a hospice center where homeless people can go instead of dying on the streets.

Volunteers also put together thank you kits for local health care workers. They wrote notes and put together bags of snacks to show their appreciation for the hard work health care workers have put in over the past two years.

Leisa Hanks, the current Relief Society president for the Bountiful Central Stake, said her community isn’t the only place a group like this can be organized.

“Give it a start, try it,” she said. “You’ll be surprised to see the needs being met. You’ll learn from each other’s worship.”

The religious differences were irrelevant as the volunteers worked together to meet the needs of others in the community. While some left saying, “See you next year,” others stayed at their tables laughing with each other even after the projects were done and the trucks were loaded — the camaraderie strengthened through another successful day of service.

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