The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in more than death, hospitalizations, lingering symptoms, isolation and unemployment. It also has brought supply and food shortages.
That is why the United Nations World Food Programme is setting up “food hubs” in a half-dozen or more countries around the globe to make it easier to reach those in need.
And now, Latter-day Saint Charities has contributed $2 million in cash to that effort, said Bryant Pankratz, senior manager of emergency response and refugee services for the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The donation will help the food agency to better tap its worldwide distribution network, Pankratz said, which includes three global hubs in Belgium, the United Arab Emirates and China that are closest to major transportation connections. It also has five regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Malaysia and Panama, which are nearer to those in need.
The partnership with the U.N. program “has facilitated the efficient movement of these goods and supplies where they are most needed,” Pankratz told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It is really significant.”
Latter-day Saints Charities also has donated an undisclosed sum to the World Food Programme to feed children in Somalia who are going hungry because of pandemic-related school closures. The aid will bring food for five months to more than 35,000 kids.
“With this contribution, we will be able to prevent devastating nutrition and health consequences for the children currently missing out on their daily meals amid school closures,” WFP’s Somalia director, Cesar Arroyo, said in a news release. “Under normal circumstances, school feeding means a lot to Somali schoolchildren [and] their families and communities.”
In 2017, the church’s relief agency supplied $11 million in aid to Somalia and seven other nations battling a devastating famine.
Latter-day Saint Charities reported providing assistance in 142 countries and territories last year, including emergency efforts in more than 60 places around the world. Since its 1985 birth, it has supplied more than $2.3 billion worth of assistance in nearly 200 nations. That figure was pegged at $2.2 billion in 2018.
These donations, Latter-day Saint Charities says, represent “only a small part” of the Utah-based faith’s overall humanitarian and welfare expenditures, which amount to nearly $1 billion a year.
In these latest moves, setting up the distribution networks mirrors the church’s teachings about preparedness and self-reliance, Samantha Butterworth, director of content and messaging for the church’s welfare and self-reliance services department, said in an interview. “It’s about being prepared by putting systems in place to respond to emergencies when they arise.”
Such collaborations have helped the church provide humanitarian outreach in places “where we have no members of the church, in places like Yemen, Somalia — places that are conflict-ridden,” President Sharon Eubank, who directs Latter-day Saint Charities and is first counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, said in the release. “The partnership [with WFP] is 5 or 6 years old, and it’s one of our most significant partners.”
David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme and South Carolina’s former governor, toured the church’s Welfare Square in Salt Lake City a year ago with Eubank and W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the faith’s real estate, investment, financial and humanitarian efforts.
During the visit, Beasley asked, “How do we partner to take advantage of each other’s expertise for communities of people in these fragile environments?”
They may have found a way.
“We’re very grateful because [the church is] one of our largest nongovernmental partners,” Beasley said in this week’s release. “We work together in many countries. We’ve talked about many other countries and many of the opportunities of how we can end hunger around the world.”
And, Pankratz said, such opportunities likely will continue to expand.