BRECKSVILLE: Mary Stencil finds joy in helping others.
“It enriches your life when you can help people in need,” she said. “It just feels good to be part of helping people get their lives back on track.”
Stencil and her husband, Rick, help struggling individuals and families with food and household supplies as managers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Bishop’s Storehouse in Brecksville. The storehouse, which is much like a grocery store without cash registers, is part of what the LDS church — commonly known as the Mormon church — calls its welfare system.
The storehouse, located at 6900 Southpointe Parkway, includes a warehouse with canned goods and nonperishables (most produced by the church) stocked on shelves, coolers containing dairy products and other perishable items, and a freezer where meat is stored.
It is not a public food pantry, but it is intended to meet the needs of LDS members who have fallen on hard times. It does, however, provide assistance to nonmembers.
Those who receive help must get approval from a local bishop, likened to a pastor in other faith traditions. Once a bishop, with the help of the president of the local congregation’s relief society, determines that assistance is needed, an order form is completed and sent to the storehouse to be filled.
People who live within 30 miles of the storehouse pick up their food and household items. Those who live farther away have their items delivered. Each order is intended to last two weeks.
The Brecksville storehouse serves a region that spans northwest to Sandusky, southwest to Mansfield, east through Akron and Youngstown, southeast to Lisbon and downtown Pittsburgh and northeast to Jamestown, N.Y. It is one of 143 storehouses in the world, 110 of which are located in North America.
The local storehouse keeps a three- to six-month supply of food on the shelves. About 90 percent of the items carry the church label — Deseret.
“The storehouses are intended to meet an immediate need, and not just a temporal need, but emotional and spiritual needs as well. We care for the needy, but we also teach them principles that will help them become self-reliant and maintain their self-respect,” said Bill Titera, president of the Cleveland stake (or region), where the storehouse is located.
The storehouse is operated using fasting offering funds from church members. LDS church members dedicate one Sunday a month to fasting and give the money that they would have spent on food to the church.
The local operation is staffed by volunteers, like the Stencils. The Amherst couple is assisted by other volunteers who help stock the shelves and fill and deliver orders.
“We couldn’t do this without the people who take time to volunteer. For me and my wife, it is a calling to serve in this mission to help others,” Rick Stencil said. “We all pitch in together because we’re all here for the same purpose of doing the Lord’s work.”
Volunteers from the congregations in the region served by the local storehouse come in on a rotating basis to help fill orders. Earlier this week, a group of youths from the Warren area came to the storehouse to serve.
After Mary Stencil shared a spiritual thought and led the group in prayer, Rick Stencil instructed the group on how to fill the orders that would be delivered and picked up.
Kathryn Headrick, 15, of Champion Township, was one of the volunteers. It was her first trip to the storehouse, which she described as impressive.
“It’s just like shopping at a store. You have your list and you go to the shelves and get the items that are on the list,” said Kathryn, who is one of 11 children in her family. “The great thing about it is the food is going to families who really need it. I’m sure they are very grateful and it makes me feel good knowing I have had a small part in helping them.”
In addition to the warehouse that stocks things like canned vegetables and fruit, soup, pudding, tuna, fruit drinks, spaghetti sauce, pasta, gelatin, bologna, sausage, turkey roasts, ham, hot dogs and beef roasts, a cannery operation is also housed at the storehouse.
The cannery is called a Family Home Storage Center and helps LDS members store three months of food, in case of an emergency.
The cannery, managed by Roy and Billie Jo Henretty of Copley Township, offers an opportunity for church members and nonmembers to can dry food items like beans, dry milk, rice, sugar, flour, wheat, apple slices, carrots, oats, potato flakes, cocoa mix, macaroni and fruit drink mix. The items, which have a shelf life ranging from two to 30 years, are sold in bulk and packaged in cans and pouches.
Prices vary on each item. For example, white flour (with a shelf life of 10 years) sells for $3.40 in a 4.8-pound can and $3.45 in a 5.5-pound pouch, when packaged by the customer. A 25-pound bulk package of flour is $13.30. Granulated sugar (with a storage life of 30 years) is $4.50, $4.80 and $15.00 for a 6.1-pound can, 7.1-pound pouch and 25-pound bulk package, respectively.
The LDS welfare program was formally organized in 1936 during the Depression to help church members. The church also provides humanitarian and emergency response services. Local storehouses also donate to food banks.
In addition to the Bishop Storehouses, the welfare system includes employment resource centers where people can receive help finding job opportunities; Deseret Industries, a private nonprofit organization that serves as an employment training facility and operates thrift stores; and LDS Family Services, a private nonprofit that provides counseling, adoption services, addiction recovery support groups and resources for meeting social, emotional and spiritual needs.
The church also operates fruit and vegetable farms, cattle ranches, pig farms and food processing plants that produce food items like peanut butter, spaghetti sauce and canned meats.
The welfare program is based on the gospel commission to care for the needy and is used to provide church members with an opportunity to serve, Titera said.
“Tough times come to everyone and our welfare system is well positioned to help people help themselves during these challenging economic times,” Titera said. “The goal is to help people help themselves, without sacrificing the necessities of life.”
A list of local LDS congregations can be found at www.mormon.org. For more information about the Family Home Storage Center, call 440-526-4057.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.