Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah had been providing layettes for newborns to moms at three area hospitals who needed extra help. But now, they faced a problem.
Funding from a foundation that supported the project had vanished, and the Catholic agency found itself unable to obtain the extra needed items — linens, homemade quilts, toiletries, etc. — for the 70 or so baby layettes donated monthly.
Director Maresha Bosgieter turned to a resource she has come to trust: JustServe, a free service provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that uses the power of the internet to connect willing volunteers with needy individuals.
“We put our need on JustServe,” she said. “As a result, our room was fuller than it had ever been before with layette items. We haven’t had to reach out further, there has been such an immense response.”
The agency, based in Ogden, Utah, has turned to JustServe for other things as well: occasional needs with its food pantry, and helping provide birthday bags for children under 12 in needy families. In fact, the response to the birthday bag project was so overwhelming, the agency had to take down the posting on JustServe because it had received all the help it needed.
“It has been absolutely amazing,” Bosgieter said. “We know we can put anything on that website if we discover we have needs, and the community is going to see it and help us out.”
She added, “We really appreciate all that the LDS Church does, but especially that it has created this wonderful thing to help the community on a non-profit site as well as individuals who are looking for volunteer opportunities. We appreciate the partnership, and we tout it to other nonprofit agencies.”
The concept is fairly simple. “At JustServe, we believe that nothing should get in the way of organizations and volunteers coming together to do good things for the community, so we help make this happen for free,” reads the introductory message on the website.
“As we reach out with fellow Latter-day Saints and others who are not of our faith in an effort to help people in need, we create a spirit of love and cooperation that transcends differences and connects us as children of God,“ writes the First Presidency in the JustServe Guidebook. “May the Lord bless you in this effort to give selfless service as your time and circumstances permit.”
Users of JustServe.org may sign up as individuals or organizations. On the “Projects” page, they see the number of service opportunities within a self-selected distance from their homes, from five-mile increments up to 75 miles. They can then view information about each project, hoping to find a good match.
On March 16, for example, many service opportunities could be found within 25 miles of Boston, Massachusetts.
“Deliver shoes to orphanages around the world,” read one in Boston. “We need volunteers to take shoes with them as they travel.”
“Come help feed the hungry by packing and sorting food for the needy,” read one from the town of Billerica.
In Milford, a hospice was “looking to add caring, compassionate individuals to our volunteer pool.”
“We believe that there is a power behind JustServe,” said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The power comes as a result of doing what Jesus Christ would do if He was here. We have felt the inspiration of Heavenly Father during the development of JustServe and we are thrilled with the opportunity of doing this noble work alongside our dear friends in the community who represent all people and organizations who share the desire to serve and bless the lives of those in need.”
JustServe operates with no cost or obligation to the organizations or the volunteers that come.
JustServe connects “everyone who has a desire to serve and bless the lives of those less fortunate in our local communities to organizations that have a need for volunteer help to do just that,” said Elder Richard J. Maynes, a General Authority Seventy who oversees JustServe.
Church members and leaders have been working to build and expand the website since 2011. Church members in San Jose, California, offered their experience in creating the sophisticated electronic bulletin board of service opportunities.
Through outreach to religious and other organizations, the idea took off. From San Jose it spread elsewhere.
JustServe was expanded as a pilot effort in Denver, Colorado; and Dallas, Texas, in 2013. By 2015, it had been approved for all the Church’s administrative areas in the United States and Canada — except Utah. In late 2016, it was approved for three areas in Utah.
“As of now we have 355,111 registered volunteers, 11,455 current projects, and more than 54,000 projects since we started,” reported Sid Price, who works with her husband, Bill Price, as JustServe specialists. Now, the Church has begun to train JustServe specialists in the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, the success stories have accumulated.
The San Diego Padres baseball team adopted JustServe. The team organization has sponsored a Mormon Night for many years but the event has now shifted to highlight JustServe in the promotion and pre-game ceremony. Organizations and individuals are recognized with the JustServe Crystal Baseball Award for supporting community service through JustServe.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Monica Stock has been a JustServe specialist for about three years. She enlisted the help of retired local Red Cross director Murray Dennis. Together, the two women hosted community meetings and taught local residents about JustServe.
An outcome of that effort is that Nicholls State University in Thibidaux, Louisina, is using JustServe to communicate volunteerism needs for its service projects, such as coastal restoration and tree planting. The university has produced a video to convey the JustServe concept, Stock said.
In northern Utah, Doug Felt retired from his ophthalmology practice in 2016. Six months later, as part of a Church-service mission to which they were called, he and his wife, Shelley, found a service opportunity on JustServe.org, staffing a free, monthly, diabetes eye clinic in inner-city Ogden, said JustServe specialist Caitlin Gochnour.
“The Seager Clinic has been serving the homeless, uninsured and working poor of northern Utah with free medical and dental care for 30 years,” Gochnour said. “The clinic started posting projects on JustServe.org in 2016. The Felts completed their mission in February but plan to continue volunteering monthly at the Seager Clinic.”
Dianna White, JustServe specialist in the Apex North Carolina Stake, said community relationships have grown over the years to the point that the North Carolina state government now posts a JustServe link on its volunteerism website. “Local town governments are also starting to employ the tool for their volunteerism efforts.”
In the McMinnville Tennessee Stake, Melanie DuBose encountered suspicion and resistance four years ago when trying to enlist other churches in a community Christmas food drive hosted by the Winchester Branch. Last week, DuBose contacted the head pastor of one of the churches in the county that had rebuffed her before.
“I told him about JustServe and how they can use it for their food pantry, backpack program for kids in need” and other services, she said. “He was so excited about JustServe and asked me who hosts the website. I told him the name of our church … and he thanked me. He said he is very familiar with the LDS community and would love to partner with us and use our site regularly. I am so glad I made that call.”
DuBose said, “This is the success we are getting, not only are we building bridges, but we are beginning to care for the needs of others in a more unified way.”
Bill Price said through JustServe many are finding out they have much in common with others in their community. “It’s unbelievable what happens when people get to know each other.”
Elder Maynes summed it up this way: “JustServe is an effective vehicle that allows the community to practice pure religion, in other words to follow the example of Jesus Christ in blessing the lives of those less fortunate.”