England Stake Stamps Out Poverty
Contributed By By Lok Yi Chan, Church News and Events
In a world where electronic communication has all but replaced “snail mail,” most people relish getting a real letter. The members of the Coventry England Stake are maximizing that treat with an unusual service initiative.
Two years ago, Des Waddington was serving as the branch president of the Daventry Branch (now part of the Rugby Ward). He began the “Used Stamp Appeal,” an initiative in which members of the ward collected used stamps to be donated to two charities: Oxfam and Leukaemia Care.
Oxfam, an international organization, seeks to alleviate poverty around the world. Leukaemia Care, a United Kingdom charity, raises funds for people affected by blood disorders. The two groups sell the stamps and use the proceeds to accomplish their respective missions.
But branch members weren’t just collecting their own stamps. President Waddington encouraged his congregation to solicit the help of the local community by asking their work colleagues and local businesses to save their stamps too.
When Brother Waddington was called to serve on the stake high council, the stake presidency asked him to expand the project to the entire stake. Brother Waddington engaged the help of the stake public affairs council—the project is now part of the stake's annual public affairs plan—and with the help of public affairs locality specialists working with individual units in the stake, the project was taken out into the community.
“The project has enabled members of the Church to demonstrate that we are Christian and that we are keen to help others,” said Brother Waddington.
Processing the Stamps
Those who have agreed to serve as “collection points” periodically turn their stamps over to the Church for processing. Members then volunteer to trim off excess pieces of envelope and count the stamps before turning them in to the two charities.
Leukaemia Care then sells the stamps by weight and the stamps are recycled for their silk content. At Oxfam, employees sort the stamps into collections of either UK or foreign stamps, package them in bags of 500, and sell them.
Foreign stamps and first-day issue sets sell for more than standard UK stamps. Once in a while, when a valuable stamp is donated, it is sent to auction or to collectors Oxfam has contact with. This, Brother Waddington said, is where the money really “mounts up.”
How the Stamps Help
According to the Rugby Advertiser, an area newspaper that recently covered the Used Stamp Appeal, 6,000 stamps enable Oxfam to buy two goats for a family in Mozambique. The goats can help the family escape poverty by producing milk and other items to sell in the market.
A collection of 9,500 stamps can buy a cow. Twelve thousand stamps provide medication for a village for three months, and 45,000 stamps builds a solar-powered greenhouse where vegetables and fruit can grow year-round. With 205,000 stamps, Oxfam can pay for a schoolroom in Africa complete with desks, chairs, books, and pencils.
And this from something simple—a postage stamp—that would normally be discarded.
Response from the Community
The Used Stamp Appeal project first gained public recognition when the Daventry Express, one of the local newspapers, ran a story in February 2011 about the project reaching its first milestone of collecting 10,000 stamps. It was then that the paper agreed to publish a free, weekly advertisement for the project and offered its office as a stamp collection point. The publicity generated enthusiasm for the project among the community, and the public immediately turned in thousands of stamps to the Daventry Express.
Just before Christmas in 2011, representatives from the Church met with staff of the Rugby Advertiser, another local newspaper, and coordinated a front-page “Stamp Appeal” to call for stamp donations. The paper has featured the project every week since. It also provides its office as a collection point for the public to drop off used stamps.
And the community has continued to respond. So far, more than 400,000 used stamps have been successfully collected—more than 350,000 of which were from the community.
Brother Waddington recalled many instances in which Church members were able to collect a large number of stamps in a short period of time.
Linda Moore, who works in a charity shop, once received 30,000 stamps from one person because the charity shop next door to hers didn’t want them. A couple from the Rugby Ward located a source that generated 40,000 stamps all at once. Another woman donated 30 albums of first-day issues to Leukaemia Care because her husband passed away from leukemia.
Stake representatives recently worked with another local newspaper, the Leamington Observer. It was in this publication's office that the Church handed over some 30,000 stamps to Oxfam, an event that the Observer covered in an online article.
The Church’s involvement with the project has helped establish a reputation for Latter-day Saints as people who are interested in and involved with community welfare.
“The newspaper coverage has helped to raise the profile of the Church,” said Brother Waddington. Because of this project, he continued, the Church is able to build relationships with local schools, businesses, and individuals, including journalists.
Oxfam stamp coordinator Liz Griffin expressed gratitude to Brother Waddington in a letter, thanking him for the stake’s involvement with the project.
“Many thanks indeed for once more supporting Oxfam by collecting used postage stamps. It is very much appreciated … ,” the letter read. “Please pass on my thanks to [Church members who helped collect stamps].”
The project has been beneficial for the Church as well. It has increased the Church’s publicity, served as a conversation starter for missionaries, and provided opportunities to engage less-active Church members in service. And, Brother Waddington said, the project blesses not only the project’s beneficiaries but also those who volunteer their time to help.
“As we serve together doing the processing, we are able to have fun, develop relationships with each other, and strengthen each other,” he said.