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Mormons in New Hampshire Fall Back on the Church When Needed

During these tough economic times people often turn to churches, synagogues and other faith-based organizations for help. Maybe the church runs a shelter, maybe congregants cook food for a family, maybe the temple has a clothing drive.

But while communities of faith will do what they can to help their members and others in the community, few are as well-organized as the Mormon church.

NHPR Correspondent Sheryl Rich-Kern has the story.

Sound of door opening, Kirsta saying hello, hi, how are you, come on in, fade under

Krista’s apartment is a little cramped.

Papers and files are strewn on a folding table.

An old TV sits on a couple of cinder blocks.

Krista and her husband Scott asked that we not use their last name.

They moved to Milford about two years ago for Scott’s job, and they thought they’d be in their own house by now.

But they’re still paying a mortgage on a home they can’t sell in Colorado.

Krista: We are in the hole I think about 800 dollars a month from that. You know, our reserves we had planning for this, they are gone. In this last year, five or six times, we have been at that specific juncture, where we had no cash flow, no extra after our bills to pay for food.

Piano playing, fade under

Krista and her husband Scott managed to fit their 60 year-old upright piano against a small wall.

Although it’s a little out of tune, Scott likes to practice his Mormon hymns.

It’s a break from the stress.

They’ve got other problems besides that house in Colorado.

Scott’s worried that his furlough may become permanent.

Scott: It’s been hard to concentrate with the financial thing hanging over our head.

Piano playing

Now Scott and Krista admit their recent bad luck takes them to places they didn’t expect to go.

Every two weeks, they go to a food pantry an hour away in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Krista: The first food order was really hard to get. I realized in the end I probably should have gone a month or two before I did.

To call it a food pantry does not quite do the facility justice.

People who’ve been there describe it more like a supermarket.
Aisles and aisles of frozen meats, canned goods, grains and sauces, stock the shelves.

The goods don’t come from drop-off donations.

Rather, they arrive from factories and farms run by the Mormon Church.

Many of the items carry the label Deseret Industries which is owned by the Church.

Julie Berry is with the Boston region of the Mormon Church, which is officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — or LDS Church.

She says the LDS Church began organizing what they called welfare farms during the depression of the 1930s.

The idea was to promote self-sufficiency.

Berry: They put out-of-work workers, you know, growing beets and growing corn. I remember when I was a child we had a farm. We donated some of our farmland and grew corn. And the members of our congregation harvested the corn and took it to the local church cannery. And we canned it and it was part of the welfare system.

That system of volunteers continues today.

But Church officials say they haven’t needed this many since those early days.

Across the country, the church is reporting a nearly 30 percent increase in demand at the storehouses over previous years.

Gary Gustafson is the Bishop of the LDS Church in Nashua.

Close to 400 members attend.

Gustafson says about five to ten percent of his congregation is having trouble making ends meet.

Gustafson: But it’s a rotating five to ten percent.
Sheryl: So a few years ago, what was that percentage?
Gustafson: One to two percent, maybe even no needs.

Each congregation has its own relief society which visits each family in the ward to determine if they’re struggling with finances.

Gustafson: And then as a bishop, I have the authority then to render assistance. That could be anything in the form of commodities; it could be cash to help them with utility payments, or perhaps even rent or mortgage.

The funds come from members who fast once a month and contribute to the church the money they would have paid for food.

Ambi, sound of running water, cupboards closing

Krista: I’m just draining fruit. And I’m going to mix up some jello here.

LDS Church member Krista is preparing dinner.

Chopping noise, fade under. Krista: I’m going to make some tuna salad, I’m cutting radishes and um, actually, the tuna I’m going to use is from the storehouse.

Most people who get help from the church will be asked to give back.

They may have to cook for a retreat, chop wood to help others heat their homes, or teach at the Sunday school.

Krista says she used to work at one of the storehouses.

Krista: It’s harder to receive. In the end, I don’t know I could appreciate giving without having been a recipient. (Scott chimes in.) We’ve definitely changed through this. It’s a good thing in the long run (laughs) but not a fun thing.

And it’s not forever.

Scott and Krista have to assure their church they are doing what they can to make it on their own.

Once they are back on their feet, they will be expected to contribute as others do.

For NHPR News in Nashua, I’m Sheryl Rich-Kern. 

Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ
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