A few words from President Gordon B. Hinckley at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional Dec. 6 touched a tender chord in the hearts of listeners and opened the floodgates of giving.
Because of President Hinckley's comments about an orphan girl in Honduras, 4,000 pounds of candy and 35,000 pounds of toys and clothing are en route to provide Christmas gifts to children who were victims of Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua and Honduras.
During the devotional, President Hinckley spoke of a 2-year-old girl in Honduras whose father suffered a stroke and died after he had piled furniture and placed her atop it on a little mattress to save her from water flooding their home. The child's mother had died a few months earlier. (See Church News, Nov. 28, 1998.)
"No one knew anything of [the little girl] until a young man, two days later, happened to look up in that abandoned house and saw her still alive," President Hinckley said. "He tenderly brought her down and delivered her to the bishop and the bishop's wife. It was there that we saw her and the young man who had rescued her
"I would hope that at this Christmas season, when there will be no gift-giving among these devastated people, this small orphan girl might receive perhaps a little taste of candy, something sweet and delicious. I must see that that happens. Perhaps just a little will be present enough for that tiny child down in La Lima, Honduras."
President Hinckley's hopes were fulfilled very quickly. By noon on Monday, Dec. 7, representatives of five major candy companies had contacted Church headquarters, offering to send candy to Central America. Also, members of the Church individuals, families, wards and stakes and many who are members of other churches responded, dropping off packages of candy and toys to be included in shipments to Central America.
Some donations came in by pickup truck loads from wards or stakes. Others came individually, such as a small stuffed bear dressed in red and green with some candy canes tied to it. Attached was a note: "Dear President Hinckley, I was in the Tabernacle Sunday when you spoke of a little girl in Honduras who you hoped to get some Christmas candy to. I felt a strong desire to help, so here is a little Christmas bear to love and some candy. I hope she enjoys them. If something has already been sent to her, I am sure you know of another child who needs to know someone is thinking about them
"You can just imagine the hope that
will come to a child when he gets some candy and a toy in a year when he just isn't counting on it," said Garry R. Flake, director of Humanitarian Service of Church Welfare Services.
Surrounded by dozens of bundles of clothing, bags of toys and pallets of candy that were being placed in shipping crates, he said, "Our hope is that this will reach out to many of those in need. Wonderful, generous donations have come from many groups, those of our faith and many not of our faith, both here in Utah and throughout the United States. There was an immediate response to President Hinckley's remarks. We are thrilled and grateful for the candy that will be sent down and for all the toys and clothing that have been donated."
Brother Flake said that the candy is a very small part of what has been sent to Central America. While it might not be essential item in the wake of a disaster, it is an important contribution, especially at Christmas time, he said.
"We all know that just a little candy can give a lot of hope to a child," he noted. "The children are the most forgotten in a disaster. People are so caught up with having to respond, to get food and clothing, to get their homes dug out from the mud. Children, in my opinion, are the silent sufferers. Giving a little thing to a child some candy, a doll, a toy truck, just some little thing says to him or her, 'You count as an individual. We care about you. You're part of our family.
"I don't think we can minimize the importance of just a little token of remembering them, particularly in the tradition of Central America where every child counts on getting a piece of candy and a toy on the 6th of January. Children know the Christmas story and the tradition that this was the day that the wise men arrived at Bethlehem with gifts for the Christ child. The day children look forward to most is Jan. 6, 'the day of the kings,' " said Brother Flake, who lived in Central America several years.
Two containers, each weighing 30,000-40,000 pounds, were loaded at the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 11, destined for Nicaragua by ship. About 11 more containers of the same weights are to be shipped to Honduras by Christmas week. In addition to candy and toys, the shipments include items such as ladders, hand tools, medical supplies, bed sheets, pillow cases and other things that can help families put their homes back in order.
Martin Openshaw, field operations manager for Latin America and Africa, said it was gratifying to see how children responded to President Hinckley's comments. He opened a file folder of hand-made Christmas cards and notes. "These are from a third-grade class," he said. "They wrote notes in Spanish to the children in Central America, wishing them a merry Christmas.
"A 9-year-old girl called. She said, 'Brother Openshaw, I want to donate a doll and some candy. I'm afraid that the little girl President Hinckley talked about won't have a Christmas.' "
As he related the incident, tears filled Brother Openshaw's eyes. "I told that 9-year-old girl how much her gift would mean to another child. Later, I spoke with her mother, who said, 'I didn't put her up to this. It was her own idea.' "
He said that he is overwhelmed by the goodness of people. He spoke of a man who called him from Los Angeles and said, 'I've been gathering things that people wanted to donate from the poorer areas of Los Angeles.' I asked him what he had, and he said, 'I have over 150,000 pounds of clothing and I don't know what to do with it.' "
Brother Openshaw said that the Nicaragua consul called with a similar report: he had five truck loads of clothing that had been donated.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Brother Openshaw said. "People everywhere have been so generous, so caring. From almost every city, someone has called and asked, 'Is the Church sending anything down? I want to help.' "
Brother Openshaw said the recipients are "grateful for everything they receive."
In earlier shipments, the Church has sent more than 1 million pounds of food, clothing, medical supplies, tools and other items for humanitarian relief to storm-ravaged areas of Central America.