MURRAY, Utah — Every item that passes through the service room in the Deseret Industries store here has a story — a fairy tale of sorts, with a humble beginning and a happy ending.
Just ask Penny Brown, Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake Relief Society president. She knows most of them by heart.
She can tell you about the hand-knit blanket she plans to send to Africa. Or the toys made for needy children in Utah. Or the 4,000 new outfits that were given to 1,000 families in Jordan.
And the list — which also includes thousands of education, hygiene and newborn kits, school supplies, warm coats and just about everything else someone could use in Utah or far away — goes on and on.
"They are just simple things," Sister Brown said, "but they have all been lovingly made and donated."
The service room started in the Murray Deseret Industries two years ago as a pilot program. The rooms, which are now also part of Deseret Industries stores in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Mesa, Ariz.; Centerville, Utah;\ and at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City have a two-fold purpose, said Curtis Ravsten, director of Deseret Industries for the Church.
First, he said, they supply the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center. Second, they provide opportunities for Church groups and individuals to identify and meet needs in their own communities.
The last week of November, a youth group assembled school kits for children in developing nations. This past summer, Latter-day Saints donated 650 boxes of homemade clothing that were shipped to Ecuador, and sorted supplies that were sent to 30 orphanages in Ghana. And in coming weeks, toys, clothing and quilts will be donated to needy families along Utah's Wasatch Front. In addition, supplies are continually being sent to women's centers in Utah and Idaho.
Sister Brown said the concept of the rooms is simple: "Everything we get goes to good use for the poor and needy."
To volunteer, one doesn't need an appointment or any money. "The room is here, it is open and it is available," she said. "We love it when people come to help. The work can't get done if no one comes."
Fabric, yarn and other items donated to the Deseret Industries stores are sorted and placed in the rooms by volunteers. Then Church members looking for service projects can check out material. Volunteers take fabric home and return it in the form of quilts or dresses. They take yarn and return baby bonnets or handmade dolls. They take supplies and return toys.
For people who can't sew, knit or finish items, there are other things to do. They can cut quilt squares from fabric. They can sort items or assemble kits. "There is almost always something different to do," Sister Brown said. "We tailor [the work] to the needs and skills of the people who come."
Everyone who volunteers and everything they give has a story, she added. Most begin the same: cloth, yarn and the other supplies come in as things people didn't need or couldn't use. Volunteers touch them with love, and they turn into something someone somewhere needs and will use.
For example, every Tuesday Marie DeGeorge stops by the service room. She usually brings completed items and picks up more fabric. Since March she has made 718 receiving blankets and 256 jumper dresses. A member of another faith, Mrs. DeGeorge first began helping the world's children by buying her own material. Neighbors and people at her community center also donated material to her cause. Then she learned about the service room. "I wanted to do something," she said, "but I didn't know where to go."
Now her friends at the service room look forward to seeing her every week.
"When you see where the blankets and dresses are going and what you are doing it gives you a good feeling to know that you are helping out in some way," she said.
Others also help on a regular basis. Women pick up supplies for ward members to sew during enrichment night. Volunteers work in the service room cutting patterns and quilting squares. "Sometimes it is hard for us to keep ahead of the sisters," said Lynn Burt of the Cottonwood 8th Ward, Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake, as she cut fabric for newborn gowns.
Motivated by the fact they are doing good somewhere, Sister Brown and the other volunteers sometimes wish they could see the stories' endings. Instead they imagine the joy felt by students in Africa with new school supplies, the mother in Russia with a new quilt or the girl in Jordan with a new dress.
They would love to see little children in Utah open new toys on Christmas morning, the women's shelter official receiving needed bedding or the disabled orphan in an impoverished nation playing with blocks.
Instead, they see something almost as good. They see the very reason the rooms have been so successful.
"The feeling that is here draws you back," explained Barbara Hunter, a member of the executive committee for the service room. "You are not seeing the people who are receiving these things, but you know you are part of the Lord's work."
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