Service of Sorts


Want to make a difference in the world? Here are some ways that start close to home.

“Hurricane leaves hundreds homeless … Civil war leaves families to starve … Street crime on the rise …”

Flipping through the TV channels or browsing through a newspaper can bring up horribly sad images. But what’s really sad is, there’s nothing you can do about it, right? Wrong. Just ask the youth of the Canby First Ward outside Portland, Oregon. They were frustrated with feeling powerless, so they figured out a way to make a difference.

What Can We Do?

“I wanted to help people in need,” says John Stone, “but I didn’t know how to do it.”

John and the other LDS youth in Canby wanted to find the best way to donate and be sure that their help actually reached those in need. Little did they know they would find their answer in their very own church.

They learned that Deseret Industries funnels excess clothing and other donations to the Sort Center in Salt Lake City, which then processes the items and sends them around the globe. Because Portland has one of the 15 Deseret Industries locations in the world, the youth organized a D.I. drive by contacting ward members and neighbors and asking them to donate clothes. But they weren’t going to ask others to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. They wanted to give their unknown friends throughout the world the shirts off their backs—literally.

“I had clothes that I wanted to give to these people, so this was a perfect opportunity,” says John’s sister, Laura Stone. “I just want to make it better for people in Africa, Bosnia, and everywhere else. If they need something more than I do, I want them to have it.”

Crystal Powell and her 12-year-old sister, Brook, felt so strongly about helping that they convinced their parents to come home early from family vacation so they could participate in the D.I. drive.

“Sometimes I feel so small, seeing all these people that need so much help,” says Crystal, 15. “I was not going to miss this chance to do my part, even though it is really small.”

Service-minded Bunch

Youth in the Canby First Ward already know the value of service. “We get the best turnout at service projects,” says Brandon Crum, a priest. “Service activities are far more memorable than anything else we do.”

They fixed up the local full-time missionaries’ yard, weeded a cemetery for the Memorial Day holiday, and cleaned the Canby Pond, which Michelle Sajovic said was “bad news” until they worked their magic on it.

“People around here recognize that our church is very service oriented,” 18-year-old Michelle said.

But how do you help when tragedies strike far away?

How It’s Done

“Take the Mississippi floods,” says Blair Entze, 14. “I just wanted to go over there and help fill bags of sand myself. But I know I can’t just go wherever the problems are and try to solve them.”

Blair understands how the Church accomplishes service: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order” (see Mosiah 4:27). We should help our brothers and sisters, and the Lord has provided wise and orderly ways to do so.

The Sort Center is one way for donors to reach out with a helping hand. The center is a massive operation that receives clothing and other donations and then sends specifically sorted items to those in need. Relief groups outside the Church, such as the Red Cross, are able to place an order at the Sort Center and receive items to meet the needs of people everywhere.

So how do your donated clothes get to someone else’s back? Let’s start at the beginning, just like the youth in Canby did.

Giving to D.I.

When clothing and other assorted donations arrive at Deseret Industries, the employees take what they plan on selling and put those items out on the floor. This enables members and nonmembers to help those in need in their own town. Employees benefit by having a stable job while training for future employment in the community, and customers are able to get items for their families at a reduced cost.

Workers at each Deseret Industries (located in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Utah) strap the excess into huge carpet-wrapped bundles and send them by truck to the Sort Center, located near Welfare Square in Salt Lake City.

No Small Deal

The Sort Center is the hub of some “great things” done by the Church’s Humanitarian Services. It receives approximately 90,000 pounds of donations a day, with the majority coming straight from Deseret Industries.

The donations are sorted, carted, rebundled, and separated into as many as 84 different categories.

Those receiving the donations on the other end need clean, usable items that will meet their needs. By dividing the items into the most specific groups, the senders know they will be giving items that will be suitable for recipients’ cultures and climates.

Dirty and tattered clothes are eliminated from the sorting process because the Sort Center is unable to launder them. So here’s a tip if you’re donating clothing: clean the items before you give them to Deseret Industries.

When someone places an order, whether it be our church or another organization, the order includes a list of items needed in a certain pocket of the world. A truck is then loaded with as many of the 100- or 130-pound bundles as needed and sent off. The shipments may take days, weeks, or months to reach their destination, depending on the amount of air and ship travel required.

Flooding the Earth with Love

Kent Thurgood, manager of the Sort Center, is amazed at how fast the center has grown in its first five years.

“We used to put pins in our world map to show where we’ve sent donations,” Brother Thurgood said. “But if we still did that, our map would fall apart because there would be too many holes in it.” In 1994, the Sort Center sent items to more than 50 countries.

Youth in a small town in the United States can make a difference in remote areas of the world.

“It’s overwhelming to think that our clothes are going to go all over the world,” says Ashlee Edwards, 16. “It gives me peace to know that I’m helping.” A little love can go a long way. And in this case, it went all around the world. Maybe someday, if enough people believe they can make a difference, the headlines will read:

“Children are healthier … Peace returns after years of war … LDS Church service opens the doors for missionary work.”

What They’re Saying

The following comments are from people who delivered the donations to those in need.

LDS Mission President, Ghana:

The mission president wrote, “It is impossible for us to express in words the gratefulness we feel. Most of our missionaries come from humble circumstances and arrive at the mission home with the barest of necessities.”

The Kindness Foundation, Moscow, Russia:

“Your aid was very timely and was distributed in Ivanovo and the surrounding area. Many families wished they could personally see you and express their thanksgiving to you. The children who received the beautiful clothing wanted to get to know the children who donated the clothing to them and become their friends.”

African Christian Relief, Angola:

“Local people walked 200 kilometers to receive the clothing.”

LDS missionaries, West Virginia:

“We found one little boy some pants and shirts. He thanked us several times and said that was the most clothes he had ever had in his life.”

Food for the Hungry, Uganda:

“The clothing was given at Christmas to naked women in prison who otherwise would have remained naked and embarrassed.”

Food for the Hungry, Mozambique:

“For the majority of people who received clothing, this was the first full article of clothing, as opposed to rags or maize/rice sacks, they have received in a long time.”

Billions served

  • Donations are sent to those in need, regardless of religion.

  • The Sort Center receives 22 million pounds of clothing a year, and sends out almost one million pounds each month to needy people around the world.

  • Approximately 90,000 pounds of new items arrive every day to be sorted at the Salt Lake City location.

  • Each year, the Sort Center sends thousands of white shirts, suit pants, and ties to missionaries who are unable to buy their own clothing.

  • In 1994, donations were sent to places as close as downtown Salt Lake City and as far away as Uzbekistan.

  • The Sort Center also donates medical equipment, quilts, educational supplies, and various other items.

But what can I do?

What if you don’t live in an area where you can donate to Deseret Industries?

You can still be of service. Since the Sort Center is not able to accept clothing donations directly, you can donate to a reputable local charity. Sometimes their efforts coincide with the Church’s projects. For example, the Salvation Army and Catholic Relief Services often team up with the Sort Center to fulfill the needs of people worldwide.

Another way to serve is to find ways to help those around you. Sometimes those who need you the most are in your own neighborhood, ward, or family. Remember, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).

[photos] Photography by Maren Mecham