The number 200 is big this year amongst members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the church’s most recent activities show just how big.
Throughout the month of September, the church is making 200 deliveries to food pantries and charities in an effort to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first appearance of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in Palmyra, New York, to Joseph Smith, prophet and first president of the church.
“We’re doing a lot with the food pantries (and) feeding centers, where there’s a great need,” said Richard Long, welfare manager for the church’s North America Northeast Area.
Deliveries began in upstate New York in the Rochester area last week, along with deliveries in the New York City area, and are expected to continue over the next several weeks, culminating with the 200th delivery, according to the church.
Latter-day Saints are partnering with faith-based nonprofit food pantries and other local charities — such as Catholic Charities, Barakah Muslim Charity and the Salvation Army — to provide more than 800 tons of nonperishable food to help people struggling to make ends meet.
The initiative was announced in New York earlier this year by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the U.S., according to a statement from the church.
According to Abubakr Abdul-Latif, the director of operations for Barakah Muslim Charity in Rochester, the donated food is a needful gift, especially as the pandemic continues to affect residents in upstate New York.
“It’s huge, because you know that (with) COVID, people are losing their jobs and not having enough money and food to sustain them for a week,” Abdul-Latif said. “So this food here can possibly help them.”
“Through this kind of work, we find that our differences are not big (and) our commonalities are much bigger,” financial director Alma Omerhodzic said.
“Barakah Muslim Charity operates in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the whole country,” she added. “So even before the current situation with the virus, these (were) really people who (had) great needs, and you can just imagine what COVID has done to this community.”
Benjamin Lee, an operations manager for Eastern Service Workers, said the demand on the group’s emergency food services has “increased tenfold since the beginning of the pandemic.”
“It’s a tremendous boost,” said Lee, referring to the donation his charity received. “We couldn’t do what we do without our many partners in the community who have stepped up to help.”
The Eastern Service Workers and Barakah Muslim Charity representatives received 5,000 pounds of food each and say it was the largest single food donation they have ever received.
The canned goods and other nonperishable commodities shipped to New York from the LDS Church’s Bishops’ Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City include green beans, mashed potato granules, chili, salsa, macaroni, pasta and spaghetti sauce.
The food items were grown, picked and harvested from church-owned farms in Utah and the Intermountain West and processed in canneries in Utah, according to a statement from the church.
“The Lord blessed us this year with a bounteous crop, and we’re able to (use this surplus to) distribute these products where they’re most needed,” Long said.
“The wonderful thing about this project is that (New York food pantries are) all doing the same work we’re doing, and they’re able to expand our reach by distributing the products that we provide,” Lee added.
Todd Dirrigl, co-owner of Three Heads Brewing in Rochester, volunteered his company’s forklift and loading dock and gave his workers a day off so that he could transform the Brockport business into a drop-off location for the church’s donations while they are distributed to the food pantries nearby.
Dirrigl, who has previously volunteered to help local organizations with food delivery donations, acknowledged that a brewery-church partnership may sound strange to some, but he got involved with a greater purpose in mind.
“I assume it’s unusual, but you know, we are an open space for anyone,” Dirrigl said. “We are a community-based company, and we are here to help people out.”
The Brockport Department of Public Works and Foodlink also volunteered to be drop-off points for the church’s regional food deliveries.
“I think we’re now up to 13 local food banks that we have been able to support with this very generous donation that comes from the members of the church through their humanitarian donations,” said Brenda Carlson, a Latter-day Saint and Relief Society president from the Rochester area.
Over the course of several weeks, additional truckloads of food will be delivered throughout New York state, in New York City, Syracuse, Albany and Buffalo as well as several other cities and rural communities.
In all, there will be more than three dozen trucks each, carrying 45,000 pounds of food and culminating in the 200th delivery.