Today I gave a lesson to our deacon’s quorum (12-14 year old boys) about how the Church helps the poor and needy. I shared with them something that I felt should be recorded, and that is when I was the one that was poor and needy.
A few years ago I had an awesome job working for a new startup that showed a lot of promise. In addition, both my dad and brother worked there. Ever since hearing about how my great-grandfather spent a couple years working with his dad, I wanted to have the same experience, and I loved it.
Until the time came that the awesome new startup couldn’t make payroll. This was in October of 2009. So: the holidays are coming up and sorry, no payroll, but don’t worry, money is just around the corner. Well, money continued to be around the corner for another month and a half, and sometime in mid-November, we decided to ask to be laid off.
At this time, my calling in the ward was the assistant clerk over finances, so I was familiar with the fact that if I got in a real bind, then I could go to the bishop and ask if the ward could help out (In the LDS Church, a ward is a local congregation and the bishop is the person in charge, similar to the pastor). As financial clerk, I had helped a number of times to prepare checks to pay for various utility bills for others in need. I think it was late October or early November that I took an occasion to let the bishop know that I was currently not getting paid, and while we did have a little savings and thought we’d be OK, I might be asking for help somewhere down the road.
His response was, “I’d like to meet with you right away.”
Somewhat surprised, I went ahead and met with him and explained that I wasn’t getting paid and it was likely the company would fail. The bishop let me know that in cases like these, I was expected to do everything I could to take care of myself and my family, including trimming down expenses as much as possible, etc. After that, the responsibility to help went to my family–parents and brothers and sisters. After those had been explored and used, the ward could also help in various ways.
He then proceeded to discuss with me my current expenses in some detail. We went through those, and he didn’t find anything that could be trimmed. From there, we discussed in rough terms whether anyone in my family could be approached for help. Given the fact that both Dad and my brother were in the same situation as myself (and they both are typically sources of financial help to other family members), it was pretty apparent that my family was not in a good position to assist. In addition, my wife’s family was not able to assist due to a business venture they were invested in at the time.
But I did have a little money saved up, so why was the bishop working through this with me now? He explained that he thought the wisest approach would be for me to use that money only for bills, rather than waiting to ask for help when all the savings were gone. We would use the bishop’s storehouse for food and other basic necessities that were needed. Handling food was a lot easier than handling bills.
Having said that, the bishop taught me a further lesson about the bishop’s storehouse; that it was not simply food for the poor. In D&C 82:18-19 it reads:
18 And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—
19 Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.
The bishop explained that the storehouse included all the talents and skills of the members in the ward, and we were to use those to assist others. For the help that I would be receiving, I would be expected to assist others. He made note of some skills that I had and we discussed some specific things I would do.
I love that. I love that we all have different skills and abilities, and that we are to use them to help others. We help others and receive help from others. It’s a similar concept to (or you could argue it’s the same concept as) spiritual gifts. There’s a fairly standard mormon gospel lesson on spiritual gifts – the 5 second version is that we all have at least one spiritual gift; we can (and should seek to) increase ours and gain others, and they are for the benefit of others so that we can all rely on each other. Same thing with the Bishop’s Storehouse. But temporal. Someone may need help with their computers. I can help with that. My car may break down. I can’t do much about that. But my neighbor can.
A couple days later the Relief Society president came and helped us with a form that was essentially an expanded version of a shopping list. It contained the items that we could get from the storehouse. She discussed with us what we needed for the week, signed the form and left it with us.
We took that form to the storehouse and filled our carts with what we needed. The checkout process consisted of a worker verifying our items with the form. We found that it wasn’t unusual to be told we weren’t taking enough and a few more things would end up in our cart. The most extreme case of this happened right before Thanksgiving. We explained that we were eating with my wife’s parents so we didn’t really need much, but the storehouse workers insisted that everyone left that day with a Thanksgiving feast. So we took home a turkey, yams, potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. along with our other items. That year we discovered that our kids really enjoy cranberry sauce.
This was how we lived through November and December 2009. Each week we met with the Relief Society President to handle that week’s form. When the Relief Society President was released and a new one called, we helped her on how the form should be filled out (again, in the LDS faith almost all callings–including the bishop–are temporary and regularly get shuffled). Then we went to the storehouse and got our items. Usually food, formula, and diapers, but once in a while we needed something else. In particular, our kids outgrew their pajamas, so one week we got blanket sleepers for them (They didn’t have enough of our 6 month old boy’s size, so one of the pairs that we got for him was girly–I’m sure it scarred him for life). We didn’t do any other shopping at all. Period.
I did some odd service around the ward, although at the time there wasn’t that much for me to do (a fact the bishop lamented). But I also kept busy job hunting. I found a part-time contract job that paid us a little bit and helped out. My wife already had an at-home part time job which also helped. By Christmas I had a job lined up, and went back to work a few days before the new year. Between the part time jobs and our savings, we just barely had enough to handle our bills and mortgage until I started getting a regular paycheck again.
And what about Christmas? Interestingly enough, that year my wife had been particularly driven to get all the Christmas shopping done really early. I remember mentioning to her several times, “Honey, we don’t have to decide or get this right away, we have lots of time” and she just replied that she really wanted to get it done and taken care of. She finished getting Christmas shopping done in September, and so we had a wonderful Christmas with our extended families. In fact I had to make extra sure the bishop and Relief Society president knew that we were good for Christmas and did not need to be Sub-For-Santa recipients.
So that is our experience. It honestly was not that difficult; I’ve seen others have to struggle much more with financial difficulties than we’ve ever thought of having to. We fell squarely into the safety net of our savings, odd jobs, inspiration, and the Bishop’s Storehouse. We may run into difficulties again and may need help from others. In the meantime we can help others as much as we can. And for that I am truly grateful.