Seventeen years ago, RoseAnn Gunther decided to teach a group of Mormon teenage girls the importance of sacrifice and service. She had no idea that the girls’ service project to help the homeless in their city would turn into a community effort that would change the lives of people all over the world.
In 1990, Gunther, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accepted an invitation to lead the teenage girls in her congregation in American Fork, Utah.
“Instead of cookies, punch and entertainment,” Gunther explained, “I chose to focus on sacrifice and service. If you busy the hands, you busy the minds. I wanted to teach the girls skills for a lifetime. Instead of brownies, I promised the young women and their leaders blessings.”
The young women gathered basic hygiene items such as towels, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and combs, then packaged several of each item in a plastic bag. More than 100 hygiene “kits” resulted from the service effort.
That initial project was the very small beginning of Gunther’s humanitarian outreach.
“More and more people wanted to help,” the humanitarian added, “and we’ve never stopped.”
Today, Gunther, the young women, the older women, the men and the children of the community gather every Wednesday to work on a variety of humanitarian outreach projects. Each week the projects vary, depending upon worldwide needs.
For well over a decade, the weekly ritual has continued, including quilting, sewing, handwork and assembling a variety of kits. In addition to the personal care or hygiene packages, the workers combine diapers, gowns and blankets for newborn babies, or notebooks, pencils and scissors for schoolchildren.
The service group responds to ongoing concerns throughout the world or rallies to meet crisis situations. After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in August 2005, for example, the American Fork organization packaged more than 70,000 personal hygiene kits in four days.
Gunther and her team partner with other humanitarian organizations like Mothers without Borders, Project Concern or International Orphan Care, as well as with the humanitarian service arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Materials to supply the kits and projects come from a variety of sources, but all fall in the category “donations.” Individuals, community businesses, civic organizations and the Church humanitarian services department regularly make contributions to fund the projects. “We take whatever people give and make it work,” the thrifty Gunther noted.
In addition, the workers themselves create marketable items such as baby quilts, tote bags, activity books and children’s costumes to sell at craft fairs, community celebrations and garage sales. All funds raised from sales of these donated items go to further the humanitarian efforts.
“We will do all the good we can do for as long as we can,” Gunther explained in summarizing the long-term efforts. “We serve in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in the Church and in the world. The world comes last in our priorities, but we can all do something to bless the world. Besides, when we serve, our own problems look so small.”