LDS Bishop’s Storehouse (Upper Marlboro, MD)July 9, 2012
Early one Saturday morning I was driving through a winding industrial park just inside the Beltway, trying to make out the street numbers that would match the address I was looking for. I’d been invited by the local Mormon community’s Young Single Adults ‘ward’ (essentially a congregation composed of 18-30-year old’s) to join a group of volunteers working at a food distribution facility called the Bishop’s Storehouse. Although we had discussed their service project in some detail, I realized I had no idea what a ‘Bishop’s Storehouse’ would look like. Finally, I arrived at a fairly generic building with modest signage that stated that, indeed, this was property of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As I pulled into the parking lot, I was – as invariably happens when I visit the LDS community – immediately greeted by a smiling, well-dressed man in a suit. He introduced himself by his first name, although everyone else we subsequently interacted with referred to him as ‘President.’ (Another thing one finds when immersed in Mormon community life is a whole lexicon of familiar words – ‘president’, ‘elder’, ‘bishop’, ‘saint’ – with oftentimes very different meanings.)
Upon my entrance to the facility, it took a minute to clarify what exactly I was there to document. I learned that the Storehouse has numerous areas and functions. As I was led from the back through to the front, I passed a workshop in progress about financial literacy, a canning operation, an impressive warehouse filled to the ceiling, and finally the ‘grocery store’ where I was to meet the volunteers. I found about a half dozen twenty-somethings already engaged in a brief training session with an older facility manager. The job for the day was to help clients who were on a sort of assistance program run within the LDS community: Members who are in need of help go to their local leader (called a ‘Bishop’) to request food and household supplies. After discussing the particulars of their case, the Bishop works with the individual or family to decide how much of what type of goods are needed and for how long. The client then comes to the Storehouse with a form indicating the amount and the volunteers help with the shopping, checking the list and retrieving items.
One of the things that has most impressed me about the LDS community is their focus on self-reliance and disciplined preparation. As much as possible, recipients are encouraged to donate their time/labor in exchange for what they are given and I saw at least one man after he finished shopping, go back into the warehouse to help with tasks there. In addition, a number of volunteers spoke with pride about how nearly all the perishable goods on site were from LDS farms, which ship to Storehouses around the country. This provides a continuous chain of connectivity through the LDS community, not to mention the costs that are saved by having a volunteer work force at all levels of production and distribution.
Although the grocery store only serves LDS church members, the Storehouse also serves non-LDS with donations to charities, food banks and food kitchens in the greater DC area. Additionally, the warehouse’s canning operations are open to the public and people can purchase food for storage. During their operating hours, individuals have the option to either bring in or purchase at a reduced cost items – such as powdered milk – that can be vacuum-sealed to have a shelf life of up to 30 years. For those of us who suffered through the recent summer storms and the blackouts that followed, this type service is particularly valuable.
As I prepared to leave, the Storehouse volunteers cheerily invited me to come again either as a volunteer or a patron and I genuinely hope I can. The Bishop’s Storehouse strikes me as a model for serving the community both internally and externally as well.