Hunger pangs of Church members and non-members in the Soviet Union republics of Russia and Estonia have been eased through the generosity of Latter-day Saints in Europe and elsewhere.
Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy and Europe Area president received approval to make a food shipment in early January of this year. Food was to be sent to members, their families and residents of the cities where branches of the Church in the two republics are located.Gary L. Browning, president of the Finland Helsinki East Mission, said the delivery of 1,800 packages of food and vitamins was completed in late February, after President Iurii Terebenin of the Leningrad Branch notified area Church leaders that branch members were desperate for food. Members in the other two Russian branches in Vyborg and Moscow, and in the Estonian Branch in Tallinn, were experiencing similar difficulties, Pres. Browning added. Food was sent to each of those cities.
Pres. Browning said a decision was made to package 1,800 boxes of food, each weighing about 26 pounds. One-half of these went to members and their families; the other 900 were sent to non-members. Upon arrival in Russia and Estonia, the food was delivered personally to each designated recipient.
In most instances, the branch leaders were directed by city social welfare offices to non-members with acute needs. And some of the packages went to schools, hospitals, senior citizens' homes and children's relief agencies.
Each box contained flour, rice, macaroni, cooking oil, cereal grains, powdered milk, dried fruit and vitamins. Extra packages were given to families with young children, and local leaders determined that additional support be given where other needs were especially great.
All of the packages were freely given, Pres. Browning said, and each contained a sheet of information explaining Church welfare principles. Recipients were invited to donate an amount equal to the cost of the box's contents to the local branch's fast offering fund to help others in need, if they had the means and desire to do so. The law of the fast and principles of fast offerings and food storage were explained, along with directions for mixing dried milk and making cereal.
The cost of the project was paid largely through member donations in Europe, supplemented by other member donations from the U.S. About 21/2 tons of milk and a supply of vitamins for the project were provided by the Church welfare system in the United States, according to Peter Zarse, high councilor in the Frankfurt Germany Stake.
The Europe Area Welfare Committee gave the Frankfurt Germany Stake and Frankfurt Germany Servicemen Stake the responsibility of organizing, preparing and shipping the supplies.
Brother Zarse said one obstacle to the effort was the lack of essential foodstuffs packaged for individual distribution, due, in part, to other relief efforts.
"Other humanitarian efforts, like our own, had depleted the stocks of these basic items in small packages," he explained. "This required the purchase of many items in bulk, unpacking them, then re-packing them into the needed quantities and weights. Young and old worked together with a specially organized group of young single adults from our stake for two days to prepare, pack and load the food. A severe snowstorm hindered the work, but nothing could stand between these saints and the accomplishments of their labor of love."
Brother Zarse said the Russian truck driver who transported the 23 tons of food was sent off by members with a "Book of Mormon, food for his voyage, best wishes and our prayers."
Church leaders in the area say the response from members and non-members alike has been touching.
One 86-year-old man in Vyborg wrote to the area presidency: "I thank you from my heart for your attention and concern for me in my old age and loneliness. Warm thanks for your package, which was very important to me because I am weak and cannot go to the stores. . . .
"During my entire life, no one ever gave me anything, though I have shared what I could with others. And now God has seen me in my loneliness and helped me. Thanks to dear God, and to you, good people. I offer your church 15 rubles from my small pension. May the Lord preserve you."