LDS Relief Society to lead global nutrition campaign

Women’s group seeks to improve access to nutrition, immunization and newborn care in countries stretching from Asia to Africa to the Americas.

(Catholic Relief Services) Madelyn Sofia Mendez Mateo (far right), a first grader in Planes de Rio Grande, Honduras, eats her meal during recess time with her classmates. “I love it when they serve spaghetti, tortillas, beans and rice,” said Sofía, who dreams of becoming a teacher or an engineer. The Church of Jesus Christ is supporting the efforts of Catholic Relief Services in various countries to provide girls and young women with nutrition education and counseling, along with nutritious supplements and food.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday a new global effort — led by its worldwide women’s Relief Society — to improve the health and development of young children and their mothers.

Focused specifically on increasing access to nutrition, immunizations and maternal and newborn care, the initiative represents an expansion of child nutrition programs underway in countries across Central America, Africa and Asia.

“Whenever we do anything to bring relief to others — temporal or spiritual — we are bringing them to Jesus Christ and will be blessed to find our own relief in him,” Relief Society General President Camille Johnson said in a news release. “We are grateful for the opportunities God gives us every day to love our neighbor.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson plays with a group of young children in a drought-stricken area of northeastern Uganda in March 2023.

Starting in the Philippines in 2019, the church launched a program for screening children for signs of malnutrition and training parents in dietary diversification. The program has since expanded to 11 additional countries, with more locations set to open in the coming months.

The church plans to carry out this newly expanded effort through its existing “ecclesiastical networks,” in addition to collaborating with organizations engaged in similar work, the release explained. Among other things, the initiative will seek to boost access to health screenings, nutrition — including supplemental foods and deworming medications — and “dietary awareness” for mothers, as well as connecting individuals to medical resources for follow-up care.

“This project is something that comes naturally to women,” Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, said. “Relief Society sisters are already nurturing others in their homes and communities. Even if they aren’t directly involved [in this initiative], they’re part of a global sisterhood that is making a difference in people’s lives.”

Johnson called the humanitarian undertaking an “optional opportunity” for Relief Society members, encouraging them, regardless of where they live, to look for opportunities to reach out.

“When we serve our families and our neighbors,” she said, “we are part of a global cause.”

The new effort comes after the church spent more than $1 billion worldwide in 2022 helping those in need, topping its 2021 total by more than $100 million. That increase came amid increased scrutiny of the Utah-based faith’s finances and charitable giving.

(Anny Djahova/Catholic Relief Services) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supporting the efforts of Catholic Relief Services in various countries to provide girls and young women with nutrition education and counseling, micronutrient supplements and nutritious foods.

In August, the church announced one of its largest donations ever — $44 million — to other organizations engaged in relief work, including CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, Helen Keller Intl, The Hunger Project and more.

In 2020, the church marshaled its extensive resources to communities impacted by COVID-19. The effort, which church leaders at the time described as the faith’s largest humanitarian effort ever, included donations of millions of masks, truckloads of groceries, and cash donations to projects in more than 130 countries.

Latter-day Saint leaders have faced stiff criticism, nonetheless, from those inside and outside the faith who argue the church’s deep pockets mean it could and should be doing much more to alleviate suffering worldwide.