The 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference this week in Salt Lake City had a long-range vision of helping to build “inclusive and sustainable cities and communities.”
The service project connected to the three-day gathering had a more immediate aim: Assemble 375,000 meals for needy children, a goal that turned out to be too modest.
More than 4,000 volunteers of every stripe rolled up their sleeves, slapped on plastic gloves, donned colorful hairnets and took their places in assembly lines at the Salt Palace Convention Center to fill bags of food.
Latter-day Saint Charities, the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, partnered on the project with Feeding Children Everywhere, American Airlines and JustServe (a volunteer network established by Utah’s predominant faith).
In the end, the troops put together more than half a million meals, a church spokesman said Wednesday.
“I’m just blown away by how many people came,” Sharon Eubank, director of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, said in a news release. “People who are food insecure — that’s an easy thing that we can all rally around and do something about.”
The effort allowed volunteers not only to unite on a worthy cause but also to meet others motivated by the same desire to help.
“I love that this opportunity was provided that we could come and actually do something meaningful,” volunteer Sarah Parson of Lifting Hands International said in the release.
“I’ve met people from all over the world,” added Mark Maxfield of the Salt Lake Rotary Club.
Dave Green, CEO of Feeding Children Everywhere, praised the army of do-gooders.
“We couldn’t do it without the help of the volunteers serving behind us,” Green said in the release. “We realized that so many American families are out there struggling to put food on their table because of affordability.”
Eubank also discussed community-level disaster preparedness in a panel discussion Tuesday at the U.N. gathering.
“I am convinced ... everyone can do something at a small scale,” she said in a news release. “In some places, this might be fancy 72-hour kits that we store someplace. In other places, this might be taking the staple food of rice, putting it in a soda bottle and storing it under the bed every time you cook so that you have a little bit of cushion if there are times when food and water [are] scarce.”
In the U.N. meeting’s closing session Wednesday, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, who oversees the faith’s vast real estate, investment and financial operations, praised the “broad array of nations and organizations uniting to make this world a better place.”
“Just as protecting our planet requires worthy forms of personal sacrifice," the French native said in a news release, “so too we can sacrifice to sustain and include those around us, whoever they may be.”
Caussé also encouraged the world’s young people to be examples for their elders in global causes.
“Show us the way; carry the baton; maintain the flame; channel your enthusiasm," he said. "Find ways to serve in your neighborhoods, in your communities, in your cities, countries and congregations. Serve at home and abroad. In doing so, those you reach will be blessed, but so too will you.”