Mormons Find Support at Home Storage Centers

By Lois M. Baron
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In 1936, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints formally organized its approach to taking care of members' physical needs: employment services, food banks (known as the bishop's storehouse) and canneries that help stock the food bank and are available for individual use. Volunteers supply the elbow grease to make the system work for a church that has about 13.5 million members worldwide.

Within each congregation, known as a ward or branch (depending on its size), a person serves as the employment specialist, helping members with such tasks as résumé writing and interview skills.

Use of the 129 bishop's storehouses worldwide rose 20 percent last year. To gain access to these food banks, people -- members and nonmembers -- must have paperwork done by the head of the LDS congregation in their area, who is known as a bishop (or president in a small unit). In return, members are asked to do work, such as cleaning the chapel or stocking food at the storehouse.

Kevin Nield, in the LDS Welfare Services Department, said church canneries have had a threefold increase in use since the U.S. economic downturn began. He emphasized that the system is set up mainly for members. Lowell Hayes, the D.C. regional field manager, says that popular items include wheat and powdered milk but that he can't detect a pattern: "Last week, black beans were big."

The Upper Marlboro home storage center (7979 Penn Randall Pl.; 301-735-5131), which includes the cannery, bishop's storehouse and employment resource center, serves members living east of Martinsburg, W.Va.; in southeastern Pennsylvania; in suburban Maryland north to Columbia; and in Northern Virginia south to Fredericksburg. The next-closest centers are in Baltimore and Richmond. Commodities from the bishop's storehouse are trucked monthly to church buildings at the outer edges of the area, so those authorized to use the storehouse don't have to drive for hours to get their supplies.

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