This, Humpherys said as he holds the can in his palm, is “the best food money can’t buy.”
The new storehouse, which opened in January, is the centerpiece of the Mormon church’s intricate network for taking care of its members and lending a hand to others in times of natural disasters, putting scriptural encouragements into action in the aftermath of hardship.
“As I walk through, I (don’t) think,’What a beautiful building’ but how the Lord must truly love the poor to provide this building to take care of their needs,” Humpherys said during a tour of the facility, built with members’ donations.
Since its inception, the LDS Church has viewed looking after its members’ well-being as part of its core mission. During the Great Depression, when unemployment ran 30 percent among members, the church formalized its welfare system. It opened the first regional storehouse in 1937 in Salt Lake City and began to buy orchards, farms and cattle ranches to provide commodities to redistribute to those in need.
The church buys many items it keeps on hand today at the storehouse — from wheelchairs to sugar and rice. But the system works much the same way it did at its start: It begins with a call from a Mormon bishop seeking help either for his congregants or his community.
It has never been a “dole” system, Humpherys said, which “helps maintain the dignity” of the process. A recipient may be asked, for example, to help clean a church or fix a widow’s fence in exchange for aid; a single mom might be asked to “stay home and take good care of her kids.”
Today, the central storehouse uses its own fleet of trucks to take food and supplies across the country to five regional storehouses, from Alberta to metro Atlanta. From there, the goods fan out to more than 200 local storehouses.
But the Salt Lake City storehouse is command central, especially in a natural disaster. It can dispatch food, supplies and volunteers anywhere in the U.S. within 12 hours to 18 hours of a disaster, though it often reacts even quicker. That success has triggered visits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Defense Department and other government agencies wanting to know how the Mormons do it.
The answer, he said, is the church’s lay leaders who know their community’s needs, its supply network and a massive number of volunteers ready for action.
“There are things they can’t duplicate,” he said. “On the other hand, there are things we can’t do, so we try to work in partnership with the government and other religious groups.”