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Peru members come to aid of their neighbors

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Food boxes recently donated by Lima-area Church members for Peruvian quake victims were stuffed with all the rice, beans, canned milk and other nutritional staples needed to sustain a small family for a week. But something was missing.

The people who would receive the food boxes would be reeling physically and emotionally from a series of earthquakes that nearly destroyed several cities in the Andean nation. Rice and beans would fortify hungry quake victims — but what else could help brighten perhaps another troubled day, even for a moment?

"Some of the children in our stake thought the people receiving the boxes would like a sweet or two to go with their food," said Cesar Hooker, second counselor in the Lima Peru Maranga Stake. "So the children included pieces of candy in the food boxes. They hoped that might make others happy."

Also included in many of the food boxes were encouraging notes from LDS children and perhaps a copy of the Liahona magazine or the Book of Mormon. At the bottom of each box was a simple message: "A gift from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

The Church's Welfare Services Department and the South America West Area presidency offered immediate assistance to victims after the 8.1-magnitude quake struck southern Peru on June 23. Several large aftershocks followed. (Please see Church News June 30, July 7 and July 14.)

The earthquake spared Lima. Still, Church members there were left horrified by the suffering of their fellow Peruvians in cities like Arequipa, Mocequa and Talca.

"I started getting calls from stake presidents in Lima saying their members wanted to donate clothing and food, so I suggested an organized effort," said Elder George Wheeler, the Church's welfare agent in Peru.

Local leaders of Lima's 33 stakes set a goal to fill 3,000 food boxes for distribution in quake-affected areas. Members brought requested food items to their local stake or regional centers then filled the boxes. The boxes were later delivered to Peru's civil defense department, the government agency responsible for assisting quake victims.

Elder Wheeler said he and other leaders originally hoped each Lima ward would contribute 10 food boxes. But soon stake presidents were asking for more empty boxes to fill.

"We may have to buy about 500 more boxes. . . . When the stake presidents said, 'We need to do something,' I knew they were catching the vision," Elder Wheeler said.

"A beautiful spirit was felt as people filled those boxes," President Hooker added.

The generosity of the Lima members will benefit more than their friends in southern Peru. While clothing was not desperately needed in quake-affected regions, Elder Wheeler said many Lima members still donated shirts, pants and jackets to Church's humanitarian warehouse in Lima.

"Now we have enough clothing in our warehouse to carry us through the end of the year."