Three years ago, members in the Morgan Hill California Stake wondered if they should withdraw from participation in the San Benito County Association of Churches Affiliation with the association didn't seem to be providing Church members with what they felt they needed.
Bishop Robert Hobson of the Hollister 2nd Ward, working on the precept that "you get out of something what you put into it," volunteered the ward's executive secretary, Ray Montero, to serve as the Hollister 1st and 2nd wards' public relations representative to the association."When I first attended their meetings, I was apprehensive," said Montero. "Now, I feel I'm a friend. We need to be involved in our community. If we want to fight pornography, or if we want to work on other causes, we need to join with other churches to further our own goals.
"As friends working together, we can accomplish goals. Without mutual trust and if we work apart from others, our efforts will be much more difficult. By standing together as a Christian community, and by letting others know we are Christians, we can realize more goals."
Since Montero began working with the association, Church members have become more involved in their community, and they are warmly welcomed and invited to participate in community problem solving and betterment projects.
For example, food boxes for the needy were prepared by community volunteers at the LDS meetinghouse and delivered to 580 needy families throughout San Benito County at Thanksgiving, and to 700 at Christmas. The massive "Gifts from the Heart" project was directed by Elaine Kovanda, former Hollister 2nd Ward Relief Society president.
"Working on the food baskets was really a positive experience," she said. "We've made friends and there has been sincere good feeling, and people have been served."
Government and church agencies identified needy families to receive food boxes. Each box contained bread, canned goods, produce, nuts, fruits and a $10 certificate redeemable for meat at local markets.
The Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives alone required cash contributions of more than $13,000. Churches, civic organizations, Realtors and businesses joined forces. Volunteers collected food and cash, and assembled the packages in the cultural hall.
Volunteers drove as far as 15 miles to deliver the bounty to the doorsteps of the needy. The last "Gifts from the Heart" project came under chairmanship of the local Catholic parish; the next project will be headed by a Seventh-day Adventist congregation.
Involvement in community affairs is evident in other ventures:
- Church members serve as leaders in Cub and Boy Scout organizations.
- Church members from various wards contribute "sermonettes" to the local daily newspaper's church page.
- Members participate each year in "Operation Clean Sweep," a clean-up campaign originated by former LDS Bishop Quenten Taylor, who also served for a time as Hollister's mayor. Taylor and his wife, Zola, are serving full-time missions in Australia. Mitch Dabo, another Church member, is now chairman of "Operation Clean Sweep."
- Latter-day Saints take turns with members from other churches in making monthly visits to three convalescent hospitals.
- Members, through their affiliation with the association of churches, provide meals and gasoline to help travelers and transients who become stranded in Hollister, which is near San Jose, Salinas, and Monterey.
- Ward choirs combine with choirs from other churches to present special musical programs.
"The Church derives goodwill benefits from active participation in the community, and the Church is able to draw more freely on community resources to help its own members," said Bishop Hobson. "We were once considered to be clannish, and we had big problems. Now we've established a good name for the church."