Church donates funds raised by Light the World giving machines in New York, Arizona, and Utah

The festive lights and ornaments were likely stashed away weeks ago — but the holiday season stretched into mid-February for humanitarian organizations in Utah, Arizona and New York.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presented cash donations Feb. 7 to the Utah Food Bank, Eye Care 4 Kids and the Utah Refugee Connection. All the money was raised through Church-sponsored “giving machines” during its “Light the World” holiday service campaign.

If you visited the Joseph Smith Memorial Building anytime from late November through the end of December, you likely saw “giving machines” — those large, red vending machines where people donated money to purchase, say, food, clothing, eyeglasses, medicine, livestock or even sporting equipment to help families and individuals in need across the globe.

Other giving machines were placed in the Water Tower Plaza in Gilbert, Arizona; on the site of the Manhattan New York Temple in New York City; in the Hyde Park Visitors' Center in London; and in the SM Mega Mall in Manila, Philippines.

In all, giving machine "customers" donated more than $2.3 million in 2018.

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and director of LDS Charities, delivered checks to the Salt Lake-area organizations. She admits passing along the donated funds was a lot of fun. She knows many of her fellow Utahns would soon be the beneficiaries of the giving machines.

The Light The World campaign, she said, allowed legions to exercise their faith in Jesus Christ by serving others. Thursday’s local donations were also reminders that charity-minded people in Utah need not travel to another corner of the world to serve others in need.

“Anybody can do anything to help someone else,” she said. “We are all givers and receivers at the same time.”

Sister Eubank began her afternoon by making a stop at the Utah Food Bank warehouse in South Salt Lake, where she presented the organization’s president and CEO, Ginette Bott, with a check for $163,718.

The “giving machine” gift will buy more than 600,000 meals, said Bott. “It will make a huge difference for multiple families — not just in Salt Lake, but across the entire state.”

Sister Eubank then moved on to the Midvale office of Eye Care 4 Kids, where she presented a donation of almost $94,000.

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivers a donation check for more than $93,000 from the church’s 2018 Light the World campaign to Joseph Carbone, president and founder of Eye Care 4 Kids, at Eye Care 4 Kids in Midvale, Utah, on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.
Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivers a donation check for more than $93,000 from the church’s 2018 Light the World campaign to Joseph Carbone, president and founder of Eye Care 4 Kids, at Eye Care 4 Kids in Midvale, Utah, on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

“We are humbled and grateful to the thousands who donated funds to this global project”, says Joseph Carbone, Eye Care 4 Kids founder and president. “We anticipate these funds will directly benefit nearly 4,000 children who desperately need glasses and, beyond that, will provide a new world of vision, understanding and hope as these children see things more clearly for the first time.”

It’s estimated that one in four children need some kind of corrective eyewear.

The afternoon of giving ended at the Utah Refugee Connection headquarters, where Sister Eubank presented executive director Amy Harmer with a donation of more than $40,000.

The giving machine funds will provide the refugees — many who come from war-torn regions of Africa and the Middle East — with gas cards, bus passes, cleaning kits, diapers and other essential items.

Primary leader in New York

Sister Joy D. Jones, the Primary general president was in Manhattan Feb. 12 to deliver checks to the offices of CARE, WaterAid America and UNICEF USA.

“Thank you for the partnership,” said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of UNICEF USA. “Thank you for the spirit with which these machines were placed and for being with us today to present a check that’s truly going to make a difference in the lives of children all over the globe.”

“I am grateful to be able to say as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we honor the Savior Jesus Christ through service,” said Sister Jones. “And at this Christmastime, it was so remarkable to be able to see what happened with these giving through the Light the World campaign as people recognized the sweet opportunity to give.”

“I feel like our values are very aligned, that the focus is really on the mission of what we're trying to achieve together,” said Sarina Prabasi, CEO of WaterAid America.

Monica Merlis Matthews, director of community partnerships at CARE, finds the giving machines an innovative approach to fundraising. “To see really how it has resonated with people and brought people in and introduced people to philanthropy and in new ways, it’s so exciting, and so we're honored and privileged to be a part of it.”

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, meets with Sarina Prabasi, CEO of WaterAid America, in New York City, Tuesday, February 12, 2019.
Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, meets with Sarina Prabasi, CEO of WaterAid America, in New York City, Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

“Just a huge, huge thank you,” expressed Lina Bonova, executive director of CARE’s northeast region. “I think it's really important for each and every person [who] made the trip and selected the chicken and the goat. It's so important, so humble just to see this huge support, and it makes a huge difference in the field every day.”

“It’s made a difference to children,” said Leslie Goldman, vice president of global cause partnerships at UNICEF USA, who reported that the donation will be used to vaccinate 320,000 children against polio, as well as buy jump ropes and more than 3,500 soccer balls.

“Just think of how many soccer teams are out there having fun and experiencing the joy of childhood thanks to the giving machines,” said Goldman.

Gratitude from the Grand Canyon State

Oversized commemorative checks signifying the donation amounts were also given to leaders of four Arizona-based charities — $60,980 to A New Leaf, which offers domestic violence, homeless, behavioral health and youth programs; $54,410 to Helen's Hope Chest, which provides foster youth with quality clothing, hygiene items, school supplies, book and gifts; and identical donations of $67,196.50 each to the St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance and the United Food Bank.

Tom Kermis, president and CEO of St. Mary's Food Bank, said when he first heard of the giving machines, he thought it was a great concept but remained skeptical of the impact.

"Now I'm completely blown away," he said of the generosity from the Church-led effort. "I never thought we'd see these kinds of results. It's going to go a long way to feed people — for every dollar we get, we'll be able to provide seven meals. So, nearly a half-million meals will come out of this giving machine here in Gilbert to help those in our community who are food-insecure."

The Church also unveiled a piece commemorative artwork to the mayor and town council — a colorful, brushed-aluminum plaque highlighting the 2018 giving campaign and the city's participation in it.

Daniels noted when Deseret Industries opened a store several months ago in Gilbert, Bishop Dean M. Davies of the Presiding Bishop during his dedicatory prayer pronounced a blessing on the town of Gilbert. "The giving machines were a manifestation of the blessings he left on us," said the mayor as she thanked Gilbert residents and those of neighboring cities for their generous participation.

Scott Taylor contributed to story.