Despite a rescheduling thanks to a snowy spring, General Service Weekend went off without a hitch on Easter weekend, April 11 and 12. As its name suggests, the project was initially supposed to take place during LDS General Conference on April 4 and 5.
Initially, organizer Jacob Whipple wanted to schedule the service project on the same weekend as LDS Conference to turn anger at the LDS Church’s support for Proposition 8, which re-banned gay marriage in California, into “something positive.”
“You have one segment of our community in General Conference learning about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and another segment of our community out performing the Gospel,” he told QSaltLake in March “[The weekend] reaffirms the need for Christian acts of kindness in our society.”
In total, approximately 50 people in Salt Lake City performed over 500 hours of service sorting medical supplies, cleaning parks, and even helping a refugee family move into a new apartment. Although organizer Jacob Whipple said he would have liked to have seen a bigger turn out, he noted that the project had “really good participation and everything got done.”
Over the weekend, volunteers visited the homes of five refugee families from Bhutan, Iraq, Liberia and Nepal to assess their needs and to deliver them basic supplies such as quilts and toiletries.
“The main goal with doing that is that way they’re not wasting their money on toothpaste, towels and soap and such, and can spend their money on food and rent,” said Whipple., noting that refugees must work for their government money and are only paid $2.15 an hour.
“They have it really hard, he said. “Three of the families we went to visit had their houses up for sale.”
One such family headed by an elderly woman waiting for a liver and kidney transplant also needed help moving their belongings to an apartment fifty yards away in the same complex. Volunteers, said Whipple, obliged.
A number of volunteers also assisted Utah G.A.R.D.E.N.S., Inc., a sustainable community gardens project which is geared towards helping families produce their own food and become self-reliant. They assisted with such activities as creating a weed barrier on one of the organization’s plots. Other volunteers also drove to a warehouse owned by Globus International Resource Corp. where they sorted packages of medical supplies for use during natural disasters.
Volunteers also picked up trash in Dimple Dell and Wasatch Parks.
“It was a really nice walk in the park, basically,” said Whipple. “Both days were pretty sunny and warm so coats weren’t necessary.” While the parks were mainly clean already, Whipple said that volunteers were able to clean up debris around campfires and some temporary encampments built by homeless people.
Volunteers in Ogden also participated in park clean up and built a wheelchair ramp for the Weber Housing Authority.
When asked if General Service Weekend would continue, Whipple said one could be planned for September or October.
“It was a lot of work to put together, so I think it would just be a bi-annual event,” he said. “Doing it any more often would just be a little too much effort for the limited outcome.”
Whipple noted, however, that such a weekend would not likely be scheduled opposite the LDS Church’s fall General Conference in October.
“Now that we’ve done it once I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary that it be tied to the weekend of Conference,” he said. “For the most part, the general public will know it’s the gays out there doing service again, and that’s the major goal of the whole thing.”
However, Whipple added that gay and transgender people should help better the broader communities in which they live at every chance.
“I think it’s necessary that we as a community try and find ways in our every day lives to show society that we can be a positive and productive component,” he said. “Whether it be organized or us doing something in our spare time I think it’s necessary in order for us to sway public opinion and win [equal rights] in the end.”