Members of the Church General Welfare Services Committee and other General Authorities witnessed the spirit of service while touring welfare facilities in Salt Lake City on a chilly Dec. 2 afternoon.

Committee members toured the Deseret Industries Sort Center and Welfare Square. The group included President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, counselors in the First Presidency; 10 members of the Council of the Twelve; six members of the Presidency of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric and of the Relief Society general presidency.At the Sort Center, located at about 1700 South and 2200 West, the group witnessed the sorting of surplus clothing for shipment to areas of need throughout the world. More than 16 million pounds of clothing not needed at Deseret Industries stores is processed at the center annually. The clothing is inspected, sorted according to sizes and other criteria, then packaged for shipment to Central America, Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Items that are not wearable are converted into industrial rags or used in carpet padding and insulation.

"This ensures that virtually every donated item is put to use," explained President Monson, chairman of the Welfare Services Executive Committee. "The Sort Center is indicative of the outreach of the welfare program to needy persons worldwide. Recipients of this aid are Church members, as well as non-members. Distribution occurs wherever there is need, without regard to religious affiliation. Human want does not differentiate as it pertains to a person's religious persuasion, but cries out for appropriate help."

He noted that the Relief Society throughout the Church plays a vital part in alleviating suffering and ministering to the needy.

President Monson and other members of the Executive Committee had visited the center two weeks before the tour and felt it would be beneficial for the entire General Welfare Services Committee to see the operations there.

"I'm a believer that it's nice to get back to our roots and put our feet on the floor where the work is taking place, and to let employees and volunteer workers know of our appreciation," said President Monson. "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then being there is worth more than that. Seeing this type of service in action is what it is all about. The heart is touched, as well as the mind."

Besides being the hub of clothing intake, sorting and shipping activities, the Deseret Industries Sort Center takes in surplus medical equipment from health organizations throughout the western United States, textbooks, sewing machines, blankets and other items contributed by Church members for humanitarian relief worldwide. The medical equipment and sewing machines are refurbished before being sent to areas of need, often determined through the requests of area presidencies throughout the Church.

There are many non-English speaking volunteers and employees at the center who participate in a daily English class, helping them improve their language skills.

After leaving the Sort Center, the group traveled a couple of miles to Welfare Square at 750 W. 700 South. There they went through the LDS Social Services office, visitors center, bishops' storehouse, quality assurance laboratory, powdered milk and juice processing area and the milk plant.

Other facilities at Welfare Square include the Deseret Industries store, cannery, bakery, dry-pack cannery, Church Employment Services offices and grain storage elevators.

"It was an impressive experience to tour these excellent facilities," said President Hinckley after returning to his office. "It was particularly impressive to see and meet many of the people working there.

"This program provides much appreciated employment for many not able to work in the regular labor force. It provides training to qualify individuals to move with skills into the labor force. The Sort Center affords a place to which donated clothing and other items may be sent with assurance that good will come therefrom. It makes it possible to furnish much needed clothing to those in distress in various parts of the world. It is a truly significant operation."

While at Welfare Square, Church leaders had the opportunity to visit with a family who had recently adopted a child through LDS Social Services. President Monson cradled the baby in his arms as he expressed his congratulations and love to the family. Other leaders also shared their feelings of affection during the tender moment.

Social Services director Harold Brown explained that besides providing licensed adoption services, LDS Social Services provides other clinical services including counseling and assistance with foster care children and Indian students.

The employment center at Welfare Square annually places more than 1,100 individuals into gainful employment, about 200 of whom overcome, through counseling and job training, significant personal challenges that had previously made it difficult for them to obtain employment.

In addition to providing commodities for the Bishops' Storehouse and humanitarian relief, a significant aim of the welfare program is to provide training and experience to help people become self-reliant through obtaining employment outside the welfare system. Welfare Services personnel and volunteers dedicate hours of effort at the Sort Center and Welfare Square in working toward this end.

Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society general president, commented on the cooperation between supervisors and workers: "I was very impressed with the efficiency, cleanliness and organization of the operations, but most impressed with the feelings that I sensed from those working in whatever capacity. I observed a great desire - in those who were working as well as those supervising - to help others, to prepare for the job market, and to provide the highest quality of goods and services for those in need. It was a heartwarming experience. There was such a love shown."

Added Presiding Bishop Robert D. Hales: "For the most part, those working in these facilities are volunteers and are referred there by their bishops. In addition to working for what they may receive, those referred are learning work skills and habits. About 80 percent of those who come in are later referred into positions where they can become self-reliant."

Church leaders went through the visitors center before moving into the storehouse and into the milk plant. The plant operates with 18 employees and nightly help from about 20 volunteers from local stakes. It produces milk, cheese, butter, cottage cheese and powdered milk. Powdered milk is especially useful in humanitarian efforts and has been sent to Armenia following the earthquake there, to eastern Africa to assist drought victims, and elsewhere to alleviate suffering.

"The Church has put substantial investment into our capacity to produce powdered milk," explained President Monson. "Following natural disasters or other calamities, powdered milk is a product that can be easily transported, converted to immediate food value and withstands spoilage.

"All you need to do is look at some of those tiny children in Africa who are suffering for lack of basic food, and you can see the worth of alleviating human suffering by that investment in the increased capacity to produce powdered milk."