2021 was a year where many countries suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, poverty, war, political unrest and other trials. Help and relief came through donations from the Church and Latter-day Saint Charities, volunteers organizing through JustServe, and Church members rolling up their sleeves and serving others.
Help during COVID-19 pandemic
On Feb. 26, Latter-day Saint Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced a $20 million donation to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, to help ensure safe, fast and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe. This became the single largest private sector donor to date to support UNICEF’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the vaccines arm of the ACT Accelerator called the COVAX Facility.
One week later, on March 5, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé thanked UNICEF for their work in a video message, and then UNICEF’s executive director also expressed thanks to members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for combined efforts in combatting COVID-19.
In May, the Church announced a $4.15 million donation for COVID-19 relief to India. The money was used to procure oxygen concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment throughout the Asian nation to help ease the heavy load being felt by frontline healthcare workers, patients and displaced migrant workers.
Church members also looked out for their pandemic-weary neighbors on a local level. For example, on Feb. 1, members of the Pocatello Idaho Tyhee Stake spent the day organizing and distributing 1,300 food boxes to residents on the Fort Hall reservation and others.
Support for refugees
On May 7, the Church delivered a large semi-truck shipment of food, water and other provisions to a Houston-area facility operated by, among others, the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and Catholic Charities. It was was one of many deliveries to almost a dozen different charities across the greater Houston region to help resettled refugees who have escaped persecution in their respective homelands.
Latter-day Saint Charities announced on June 3 a $5 million donation in grants to nine refugee resettlement agencies. The money was expected to benefit more than 9,000 refugees and immigrants meet basic living expenses, obtain job skills training and receive supplemental education training, among other things.
In late June, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, participated virtually in the 2021 AMAR Windsor Dialogue Conference. They spoke about the mental and emotional health of millions in refugee camps — and the support they need in expressing religious faith.
The plight of Afghanistan refugees came to light in the summer and fall following weeks of unrest and conflict in the nation. On Sept. 1, the Church shared how Latter-day Saint Charities provides urgently needed help to thousands of Afghan refugees in Germany, the United States and Qatar.
As refugees began arriving in the United States, many JustServe projects and partners found ways to gather needed supplies to set up new households, including collecting kitchen kits in Northern California and other household supplies in Northern Virginia.
A nonprofit organization called ShelterBox outlined to the Church News how their partnership with Latter-day Saint Charities had helped them throughout the year — and previous years — to provide tools and shelter to hundreds of thousands of displaced people throughout the world.
Responses to hurricanes, tornadoes and storms
Honduras was hard hit by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in late 2020. The Church sent a large shipment of food afterward, and then on Feb. 1, the Church presented a large donation to city leaders in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to benefit more than 20,000 people affected by the powerful storms. The donation included five containers with 37,500 pounds of clothing and 171,168 pounds of food worth more than $210,000.
On Jan. 25, a tornado hit Alabama. Then at least 10 roared through the state on March 25. Cleanup efforts began immediately. Said Birmingham Alabama Stake President Barry R. Sadler: “Saturday we had probably 40 members of the stake and 20 missionaries out doing some clean up in three different locations.”
In August, Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana and caused a lot of damage. Thousands of Latter-day Saint Helping Hands volunteers worked to remove debris.
Late summer saw historic and devastating flooding in Europe. In the weeks following the floods, volunteers and Church members in Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg cleaned out homes and businesses, donated clothing, and offered pumps, food and support. Locals in one area in Germany began calling the missionaries “Engel unterwegs” (“angels on the go”).
The British Isles were hit by Storm Arwen on Nov. 26, with the worst winds in four decades pummeling the eastern coasts of Scotland and northern England. It prompted Church members to provide service to those most affected by the storm.
The night of Dec. 10-11, tornadoes tore through the Midwest and Southern United States. Afterward, Helping Hands and Church members responded to the destruction. Church members were still cleaning up debris in the days before Christmas, and many had left Church on Sunday to go out and serve. “There’s a time to be a Christian,” one local bishop explained.
On Dec. 20, Typhoon Rai hit the Philippines. More than 50 Church meetinghouses were opened as shelters after the winds and rain damaged homes and knocked out power.
Humanitarian initiatives and projects
The first Deseret Industries outside the western United States — located in Houston, Texas — was dedicated and opened to the public on March 24. Deseret Industries has a quest to effect lasting change through job training, skill enhancement and career counseling.
Two days later, on March 26, Latter-day Saint Charities released its annual report, which included more than 3,600 projects in 160 countries. Of those projects, the COVID-19 relief effort included more than 1,000 projects in 150 countries and territories — the Church’s largest humanitarian effort to date. Other projects included refugee support and volunteer work through JustServe.
On June 14, the First Presidency and NAACP leaders announced education and humanitarian initiatives as part of an ongoing collaboration between the two organizations.
In early June, Latter-day Saint Charities outlined all of the work it has been doing to relieve suffering in Sudan. Devastating flooding and an influx of refugees arriving from surrounding countries meant that the nation needed more humanitarian aid in 2021.
The Church also worked on battling anemia in West Africa, and educating families about improving child nutrition.
And a new Family Transfer Center started giving humanitarian aid to migrant families arriving in Houston. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided funding as well as volunteers from among the 23 stakes and 70,000 Church members in Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city.
Sister Eubank spoke in October 2021 general conference about all the ways the Church had been involved in humanitarian work around the world.
“The Church of Jesus Christ is under divine mandate to care for the poor. It is one of the pillars of the work of salvation and exaltation,” Sister Eubank said. She shared four examples to illustrate the efforts: COVID-19 relief in South Africa, the sewing of head coverings for female refugees from Afghanistan, a young woman in Haiti lifting others after the earthquake, and missionaries in Germany answering a Catholic shopkeeper’s prayers after flooding.
Service throughout the year
Church members served each other and their neighbors in big and small ways throughout 2021, and the majority of that service was unreported or done quietly without recognition. But the Church News did report on many efforts that came to its attention.
A multipartner humanitarian program called “Feed My Sheep” blessed countless lives in Arizona this past year. The food initiative relies on charity-minded people, including full-time missionaries from four Arizona missions who deliver life-sustaining sustenance to many vulnerable families.
May 8 was a day of service for thousands of youth and young adults in St. George, Utah. They spent some 11,500 man hours of work and collected more than 3,000 bags of trash. Also in May, Latter-day Saint youth in Virginia finished creating a piece of art representing 10,000 individual acts of service.
One of the largest service events came on Sept. 11, when Church members around the nation and Canada gathered for a National Day of Service and Remembrance to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. JustServe.org was one of nearly 100 organizations working with 9/11 Day to organize community and interfaith service projects and volunteer opportunities.
In late October, hundreds of people drove to 27 locations on the same day to drop off 4,200 stuffed animals for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego.
November and December were full of service through the annual #LightTheWorld Christmas initiative, themed “Light the World with Love.” A new video as well as a daily service calendar and children’s service calendar were released.
One of those #LightTheWorld events was a massive one-day blood drive with nearly 50 locations in Florida. Other countries and regions of the world held #LightTheWorld events like in Africa, the Philippines and Mexico.
Members of the Young Women program also shared how they #LightTheWorld through service and love. Youth throughout the year used JustServe to bless others — and themselves — from Alaska to Australia. It’s something JustServe global manager Heath Bradley mentioned in a Church News podcast episode in December: “Our differences really aren’t differences as we serve … and I feel like this tool will help the world prepare for the return of our Lord and Savior.”