In our class at church, the coordinator asked the men for two volunteers to work a shift at the church dairy. No one raised their hand. But after church I was able to clear my calendar, and signed up. Gordon, a retired orthopedic surgeon, picked me up the next morning and we drove to the dairy processing plant of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. The plant is one of 18 facilities on Welfare Square that produce 143 food items, including peanut butter, powdered milk, honey, beef, canned fruit, cheese, bread, pasta, and staples (wheat, rice, oats). These products stock the shelves of about 129 Bishops’ Storehouses and are available at no cost to needy Church members and others. Gordon and I were assigned to work in the cheese plant. Forty-pound blocks of cheese, aged in the cooler for a month, slid across rollers and through slicing harps. The result: 40 one-pound blocks of cheddar ready to be packaged in plastic, labeled, weighed, stamped with expiration date and batch number, and rolled up the conveyor belt to yours truly, decked out in blue hair net, yellow face covering, and black gloves. Frequent volunteers, Scott and Kent instructed me in my job: loading 20 blocks into each box, running the boxes through the tape machine, and stacking the boxes on a pallet. Each pallet held five rows of 18 boxes, or 1,800 cheese blocks. We filled four pallets, for over 7,000 one-pound blocks of cheese in one day—3.5 tons! The dairy receives about 128,000 gallons (1.1 million pounds) of milk every week, which is bottled as well as transformed into chocolate milk, cheddar cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, powdered milk, hot cocoa mix, and butter, all made there at the modern, gleaming, clean facility. The Church’s “Welfare” program came into being when Church members were unemployed and hungry during the Great Depression, as a way for the Church to take care of its own rather than turning to government assistance. The whole program is funded by the financial contributions of Church members, who also clock millions of volunteer hours a year (like my five hours today). I grabbed and boxed blocks of cheese as quickly as I could to keep up with the conveyor flow. After several hours of packing thousands of cheese blocks into boxes in a 40-degree room, my shoulders and back grew fatigued and sore from the repetitive reaching and lifting. I welcomed two breaks fueled with cheese remnants and chocolate milk. After our shift, the volunteers were permitted to purchase dairy items at market cost—you better believe I brought home a gallon of the amazing chocolate milk, plus five pounds of butter to feed my baking habit. Leaving the dairy, I felt exultant. I learned yet again how joy comes from working to help others. And how proud I felt to be a small part of the ambitious Welfare Square endeavor to help humankind.
(Pictured above: dairy products I purchased after working at the Church’s dairy processing plant.)
40-pound blocks of cheddar cheese.
The finished one-pound package.
A full pallet.
Yours truly, incognito.