Latter-day Saints on the ball
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Donor fatigue was erased when thousands of individuals and organizations quickly responded to the call for assistance to the victims of the catastrophic Taal volcano eruption.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without blinking gave donations in cash and kind to the victims thrown out of their houses and transported by trucks to evacuation sites.  

The eruption happened on the second day Church Elder Quentin L. Cook arrived in Manila to confer with church members and meet with leaders of different churches. Some of the meetings in rural areas gave way to visiting the  more than 200 evacuees from Lemery, Batangas housed in the Church’s facility in Batangas City. Had he the time, he would have gone to visit five meeting houses in Lipa, Batangas, Tanuan, Darasa and San Jose sheltering 450 people.

Adding to the Church’s and non-church organizations’ supply of meals and garments, Elder Cook donated P1 million for the center’s use, plus another P5 million to DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista for a humanitarian project fund to provide 5,000 food kits, 3,000 hygiene kits, 1,000 sleeping bags and face masks to protect the evacuees from volcanic ash.  

Highlighting the Elder’s visit was the 35-minute courtesy call he and other Church leaders made on President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang. “The visit was exceptional,” Elder Cook later said. “(The President) was warm and gracious.” He told him, “Our people always support and sustain and pray for those who are leaders of nations, and we wanted him to know that our people did that.” 

Elder Cook, one of the 12 Apostles in the Quorum of the Church, presented the President with a leather-bound personalized copy of the Book of Mormon. The Elder said the President “really liked it. He liked the fact that his name was embossed on it. He said, ‘I won’t read it right now, but I’ll promise you that I’ll read it before I finish [my term in office].’”

The Philippines has the fourth largest number of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints followers in the world. The other three are the United States, Mexico and Brazil. The Philippines has 800,000 members, which is five percent of the 16 million global followers of the church. Founded in the Philippines 200 years ago, it is one of organized church units in 188 of the world’s 224 countries and territories. 

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The Church helps those in need to become self-sufficient in the long term as well as meeting immediate needs. After the 2004 tsunami devastated Southeast Asia, its humanitarian services personnel were still working with community-based organizations to provide longer-term aid and development three years later. 

In addition, the Church regularly donates wheelchairs, funds global immunization efforts, provides clean water service, trains doctors and volunteers in neonatal resuscitation programs, and offers training and treatment to prevent blindness for people all over world, regardless of race, religion or nationality.

Under its humanitarian aid program, the Church has joined in more than 200 major disaster assistance efforts, including the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 Chile earthquake, the 2010 Pakistan flooding, the 2009 Samoa tsunami, the 2009 Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines, the 2009 Indonesia earthquake, the 2008 Ethiopia famine, and many more.  These projects are supported without regard to nationality or religion of the recipients.

The Church runs a Perpetual Education Fund for some countries outside the US in their efforts to acquire technical, vocational or professional education. Loans are granted at minimal interest, and participants do their best to repay the loan as soon as possible to become free of debt and to make money available for others who need help.

Latter-day Saints ’Family Services draw on charitable donations to offer counseling services related to addiction recovery, familial conflict resolution, abuse and other issues for individuals, couples and families at a cost based on the family’s ability to pay. They also help fund complete adoption services for members and provide services to birth parents and families (regardless of faith).

To keep its programs going, the Church has to raise funds – not from international donors – but through strategies and contributions of members here and abroad – through voluntary tithes and offerings. (My take on this: The contributions must be gigantic, seeing as we do, the very expensive monumental temples around the world.) There is the “fast offerings” where on the first Sunday of the month, healthy members of the Church are encouraged to fast for two consecutive meals and donate to the Church the money they would have spent on food. 

A unique form is its LightTheWorld Giving Machines, in which volunteers – members and non-members of The Church -- purchase items of their choice posted in a special machine, and the money is used by the Church to purchase the items and turn them over to several humanitarian organizations.  Last December, a red Giving Machine was installed at the Trinoma Mall in Quezon City. 

Endorsements by celebrities helped gather purchasers, in the persons of Janella Jenner, Lucas Carson, Obed dela Cruz, ABS-CBN’s child actress Xia Vigor, Chantal Videla, model and Star Magic Talent, Eric “Eruption” Tai, and Diether Ocampo.

Nearly 256,000 items were purchased by the public during the 2019 Christmas season. This was the fourth year of the initiative and the third year that the red Giving Machines were used. Purchased included nearly 63,000 chickens, about 1.6 million meals, nearly 955,000 vaccines, more than 3,500 pairs of shoes and more than 7,200 pairs of glasses. The amounts raised were used to purchase the chosen items to be given to and give cheer to poor children and families.

The recipients of this unique project in the Philippines are CARITAS, a Catholic organization helping the world’s poor and vulnerable, HERO Foundation, which honors military members killed or became incapacitated, ensuring free education for their children, and UNICEF, which promotes and protects the rights of children.        

According to Elder Evan A. Schmutz, General Authority 70 of the Church, there are many examples of the Church working with different faith groups, particularly with the Roman Catholic Church. The most recent one was the turnover of digital records that contain 400 years of history to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.  “This partnership, for The Church is very valuable. It’s the embracing of one friend to another,” Elder Schmutz said.

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The Church’s Charities program donated livelihood equipment to Kababaihan Iisang Layunin Umunlad  ang Sambayanan (KILUS) .  When the women’s cooperative building burned down completely, including its computers and sewing machines, and products made from reused plastic sachets scheduled for export, Latter-day Saints extended help by donating sewing machines, computers, racks, cabinets and chairs to help the Foundation continue its program, called “Transforming Trash into Cash,” which helps women, mostly mothers, earn extra cash and empower them.

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Worth further mention is the LSD’s  Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) offered to drug surrenderers in collaboration with the local government unit (LGU), organized under the direction of local priesthood leaders of the Church. 

The program assists those who want to recover from addiction and provides support for family members and friends of those with addiction. It includes the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which have been modified, with permission, into a framework that incorporates the doctrines, principles, and beliefs of the Church.

It is accredited by the Dangerous Drugs Board as one of the faith-based organizations offering services to drug surrenderers.

ARP provides a church facility as the venue of the recovery meetings, manuals are given to each participant, and volunteers serving as facilitators offer free service for every cycle, or 12 weeks of rehabilitation efforts. 

ARP partners with the government to provide after-care for those who completed the program and, training for livelihood skills and income. 

It has signed 11 memoranda of agreement with different LGU leaders in the country. In progress are Agoo, Alimodian, Cabuyao, Leganes and Majayjay.  Six ARP locations are in Balanga City, Bataan.

As of 2017, there were six ARP locations with 464 participants in Balanga City, Bataan (14), Dinalupihan, Bataan (29), Iloilo City (323), Miagao, Iloilo (46), Rosario, Cavite (28) and Suklayin, Baler (24).

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