When you’re a religion reporter it doesn’t take long to figure out where to get the best hummus (the Islamic Center of Rochester, NY); some of the best food (Rochester’s Aenon Missionary Baptist Church); and generous hospitality (the Palmyra Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
I did some interviews at the stake center once, and I wrapped up just as a service was starting. When I said my good-byes and made it to my car, I smelled gas inside. I called my husband and a tow truck but I didn’t dare go back in the building. I knew they would have insisted on getting me lemonade and having someone sit with me. So, instead, I literally hid in my car.
Even as I scrunched myself up behind the steering wheel, I knew I would be the only one bothered by the interruption if I did go inside. The Mormons I had met were – and still are – dedicated to outreach, whether that means making sure a reporter is comfortable, telling people about their faith or providing beef stew and diapers to struggling families who need to fill their cupboards.
That’s why every Friday and Saturday volunteers from sometimes more than an hour away come to the Bishop’s Storehouse in Hopewell, NY. Together, they fill grocery orders for needy families as far north as Lake Ontario and as far south as Scranton, Penn. Their trucks go west past Buffalo and east to Binghamton.
Those who need assistance must be recommended by a church leader and meet with someone to plan their menu before ordering supplies from the storehouse. Besides the produce and other necessities filling its shelves, the church offers unemployment specialists and requires people to work for the church while on assistance.
Every one can serve, said Jim Vreeland, who along with his wife, Kathy, are volunteer managers at the local storehouse. The frail can make phone calls to check on other Saints. Those in better health can do things like work on church-run farms or help clean church buildings.
“We encourage them to work for something,” Kathy said, to regain their dignity and to experience the joys of serving. “Just knowing you’re helping others is rewarding.”
And that’s a richness we can all attain, full bank account or not.