A gathering of volunteers — all spouses and associates of U.S. governors — stood shoulder to shoulder on Thursday assembling hygiene kits at the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City.
The makeshift team included at least one Latter-day Saint woman. The others were, perhaps, Catholic or Protestant or Jewish. Maybe they did not belong to any organized faith at all.
No matter. They were united in a common purpose to help others — a symbolic representation of the “pure religion” happening almost every day at the center.
The Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center prepares relief supplies for use worldwide when, say, hurricanes or war or other tragedies leave people in need. The center also doubles as a training center for refugees and others who learn English and other essential, employable skills to become self-reliant.
“I could see in the eyes of the (other spouses) that they were enjoying the service project,” said Utah First Lady Jeanette Herbert, who participated in Thursday’s tour. “They were having fun.”
Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Church's Relief Society general presidency, hosted the tour of the sprawling center. At various stops, she highlighted the efforts of the Church to deliver aid and dignity to people in crisis — regardless of their religious, ethnic or national background. Church-sponsored charitable initiatives such as clean water projects and immunization efforts are blessing the lives of legions.
Volunteerism, she added, remains an anchoring element of humanitarian service. The spouses watched a short film about JustServe.org, the Church-sponsored website that connects volunteers with service projects in their own states and communities.
Following the film, several visitors spoke of looking out for others.
“When we have opportunities to serve, we learn to love one another,” said one woman.
“Sometimes,” added another, “what people need most is a smile.”
Assisted by senior missionaries, the spouses and their guests encircled workstations at the center to assemble the hygiene kits. They laughed and talked as they stuffed the kits with soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs and other personal items that will one day give comfort to folks affected by natural disasters or other misfortune.
“It’s fun to meet with the first ladies and first gentlemen because they are very interested in how they can provide service in their own states,” said Sister Eubank.
The humanitarian efforts of the Church, she added, are grounded in “the two great commandments”: to love the Lord and to love one’s neighbors. But many people of other faiths — or no faith at all — are also guided by an impulse to improve the lives of others.
“To be linked with them and work together in a common cause is a great opportunity,” she said.
Volunteerism also fosters partnership and trust — even at a time sometimes defined by division and suspicion.
“An outgrowth of service is that you become friends with the people you are serving with,” said Sister Eubank.
Herbert, wife of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said including the Church’s humanitarian center on the spouses’ busy itinerary was an easy choice. When Utah hosted a similar event eight years ago, she and others joined in a service project like Thursday’s project.
“It was the event that touched the spouses more than any other event we did,” she said.
Herbert said she hopes her fellow governors’ spouses return to their home states uplifted by the spirit of service found at the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center. “We can come together as one and realize that we have so much in common.”
On Thursday evening, the visiting U.S. governors, their spouses and staff members were treated to a performance at the Conference Center of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and the Orchestra at Temple Square. The choir and orchestra performed a variety of patriotic and pioneer-themed numbers.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles welcomed the governors and their guests to the historic Conference Center.
“We recognize the service that so many of you are giving in your own states to carry on the work of governing in this great nation,” he said.