Missionaries in Arizona partner with local groups to answer the call to ‘feed my sheep’

Ever had a moment of immediate yet defining spiritual insight while watching a miracle happen in real time?

Ken Smith recently had such a moment — some might call it a “tender mercy” — while traveling along a stretch of Arizona highway with the Grand Canyon State’s consul general of Guatemala.

The consul general received an unexpected phone call from a fellow Guatemalan living in Arizona. It came over the phone’s speaker, allowing Smith to hear the words of a grateful man:

“Dear Consul, you know that I’ve just had an operation and you know that I live by myself and that there’s no food in my house. I was praying for someone to help me and I just got a knock on my door.

“There were two angels bringing me manna from heaven. Two sister missionaries.”

That humble recipient is one of hundreds of people from Arizona’s greater-Phoenix area whose lives are being spiritually and physically sustained by a multipartner humanitarian program dubbed Feed My Sheep. 

Prompted last year by the ongoing pandemic, the food initiative relies on scores of charity-minded people, including full-time missionaries from four Arizona missions who deliver life-sustaining sustenance to many vulnerable families.

“We call it Feed My Sheep because we are literally feeding the Lord’s sheep,” said Smith, an immigration attorney and the honorary consul of Chile in Arizona who served a full-time mission to that South American nation.

“This program is allowing us to get representatives of the Savior into their homes.”

As the pandemic began its rapid and frightening spread across Arizona, many local immigrant families from several Latin American countries began feeling its sting.

Particularly vulnerable were undocumented immigrants living without social safety nets during 2020’s economic downturn. As Smith noted, they are often the first to lose their jobs — and the last to be rehired. Many are elderly, sick or lack transportation.

Feed My Sheep organizer Ken Smith, second from left, and missionaries meet with a representative from the Ecuador Consulate of Arizona.
Feed My Sheep organizer Ken Smith, second from left, and missionaries meet with a representative from the Ecuador Consulate of Arizona. Credit: Courtesy of Ken Smith

Last March, Smith was contacted by a colleague from the consular corps asking if the Church might offer help providing food assistance to several elderly immigrant families in need.

“It was clear that there was a group of people in our community that were in great need of food,” said Elder Raymond S. Heyman, an Area Seventy from Arizona.

Smith reached out to contacts at the United Food Bank of Arizona, requesting their assistance. They responded immediately. The initial food deliveries were made by consulate representatives, including Smith.

“It was amazing, like being on a mission again,” he told the Church News. “These people were praying for somebody to help them and they were so grateful.”

Smith soon reached out to mission presidents serving across the vast greater-Phoenix area to solicit the help of the missionaries with food distribution. With the blessing of the Church’s area leadership, the missions enthusiastically agreed to participate.

Feed My Sheep is a testament of the power and reach of partnerships formed by like-minded groups and people.

“We could not do this without everyone’s combined efforts,” said Smith.

The Consular Corps of Arizona — including consulate officials from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador and Chile — utilizes its combined reach and trust to identify families in the Phoenix region who are in need of food. They pass along information to the United Food Bank of Arizona, who provide the food.

Consulate General of Arizona Oscar Adolfo Padilla Lam, center right, meets with Ken Smith, far left, and Arizona missionaries involved in the Feed My Ship food initiative aiding food-vulnerable immigrant families.
Consulate General of Arizona Oscar Adolfo Padilla Lam, center right, meets with Ken Smith, far left, and Arizona missionaries involved in the Feed My Ship food initiative aiding food-vulnerable immigrant families. Credit: Courtesy of Ken Smith

Then the full-time missionaries are called to action.

Twice a month, the food bank delivers donated food to Latter-day Saint meetinghouses within four participating missions: Arizona Mesa, Arizona Scottsdale, Arizona Tempe and Arizona Phoenix.

Missionary companionships gather at the designated meetinghouses, load food boxes into their cars and deliver the food boxes to the front doors of recipients. Delivery routes are typically given to missionaries assigned to designated areas. But, whenever possible, missionaries from Latin American countries deliver the donated food to people from their own homelands.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of Feed My Sheep has been watching people put differences aside for a common goal: to help people in need,” said Elder Heyman.

Feed My Sheep continues to deepen relationships across Phoenix and its neighboring communities. 

“The Church is making new friends,” said Smith. “It has been an incredible experience. … There are miracles happening every time the missionaries go out with food.”

The food recipients, recognizing the spiritual power of the missionaries, often ask them to pray with them or share priesthood blessings.

About 800 people are being served, bimonthly, by the Feed My Sheep deliveries. A typical food order has enough items to feed a family of four for a week and includes healthy items such as chicken, beef, fresh produce, milk, bread and eggs.

Feed My Sheep is forging new friendships and trust at a time largely defined by distrust and division. Several stories about the initiative — including some penned by Smith — have appeared in Spanish-language newspapers.

Now plans are underway to expand the initiative to Tucson, Arizona, and to neighboring states. Elder Heyman hopes Feed My Sheep can grow into a JustServe project to allow for further community participation.

“So much good is coming from Feed My Sheep,” said Smith. “We’re helping to build the kingdom by helping people in our community that need it the most. People are praying for someone to help. This is an answer to those prayers.”