Ontario youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have an established annual tradition in preparation for going back to school. This year, six hundred youth participated in that tradition — Youth Leadership Conference (YLC) — which includes workshops, activities and a special community service project.
As in years past, YLC organizers partnered with Feeding Children Everywhere to enlist the youth to assemble pre-packaged, healthy meals. The meals were then donated to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.
Kate MacDuff, manager of network programs and planning for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, commented, “The Food Bank of Waterloo Region wouldn’t be able to provide nutritious food to our community partners without the hard work and commitment of groups like the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their work makes a big impact in the community.”
MacDuff pointed out that the partnership was a perfect fit as the food from their warehouse serves organizations from Windsor to Sudbury, communities where the YLC youth live.
Paul Hillman of the Hamilton area and head organizer of the service project explained that the youth and their leaders spent a total of three hours assembling and sealing thousands of packages of jambalaya casserole.
Nora Oler of Kitchener, Ontario, was one of the youth who participated and said the experience was a fun time with her peers. She emphasized that the energy in the room was exciting as hundreds of committed youth worked together, often in friendly competition, to package as many meals as they could in the short time they had.
However, after the conference, Oler wondered what kind of impact the service project actually had. She was thrilled when she was contacted in September and invited to take a mini-tour of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region and meet MacDuff.
MacDuff showed Oler where food donations are accepted, stored and sorted by volunteers. Many shelves were filled with food ready to be distributed, but many shelves were also empty. MacDuff said the summer and fall seasons are the lowest donation times, yet the need is constant. In fact, when families go back to school and the cold weather sets in, there are more people who are in need of food in order to compensate for higher heating costs.
When MacDuff pointed out the skid of boxes that the YLC youth had prepared, Oler smiled at the familiar site. Nearly 17,000 lbs of food became over 13,000 healthy meals, totalling about four skids of boxes. Fewer than two skids were left one month after YLC.
At the end of the tour, Oler said, “I’ve seen a lot of activities for Church or school where there will be a big fundraiser or service project. … We’ll focus a lot of effort on that [fundraiser], help out and make a big difference, but then we forget to have the continuous service. … [In this case], we did one large service project that was extremely helpful. … [It] made me want to do more and not forget about the feeling [I had when] helping out.”
Oler’s experience echoed the hopes of organizer Hillman, who shared, “This project allows our young people to contribute to a worthy cause on a large scale. It also shows them that small and simple efforts can result in great things.”
For the Strength of Youth, a pamphlet given to each youth in the Church, states: “As you devote yourself to serving others, you will draw closer to Heavenly Father. Your heart will be filled with love. You will enjoy happiness that comes only from giving service to God and others. Your capacities will increase, and you will be an instrument in God’s hands to bless the lives of His children” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 32).
Contributed by Daisy Arseneault, public affairs representative, Kitchener Ontario Stake