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Mushrooms Old Enough for a Driver’s License

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 21, 2009

If you lived off-campus at BYU in the ‘70s or early ‘80s, you’ll remember this gimmick practiced by Storehouse Markets (a private commercial enterprise, with no connection to the church’s system of bishops’ storehouses):

Storehouse Markets were cavernous, cold, and dark warehouse-type grocery stores that students and young families patronized because they were much cheaper than national chains. In those pre-barcode, pre-electronic scanner days, grocers stamped prices on every single can and box in a case, and individual items were rung up by hand at the checkstand. To keep prices down, Storehouse didn’t hire clerks to do that labor-intensive price-stamping work; instead, they posted prices on the shelves by each product, then furnished customers with grease pencils to write the price on each can and box themselves as they put items in their baskets.

The advantage of that system went away as computers became more common, and I think the entire chain may have since gone the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon.

In the late 1990s I lived in an Orem ward whose youth delivered a Christmas food box each year to the poor and needy of the ward. Apparently their definition of “poor and needy” included single sisters, even those like me with good jobs who hadn’t asked for, didn’t need, and didn’t want the stuff they dropped off, collected from their mothers’ kitchens and pantries. I asked repeatedly not to be included, but the bishop insisted.

The food in those boxes was … odd. The youth and their leaders made no attempt to balance the contents – I remember one year when the box contained six cans of baking powder. There were always boxes of jello, usually a cake mix or two, and the rest was canned vegetables, usually mushrooms. Cans and cans and cans of mushrooms. The stuff was all in dusty, dented, sometimes bulging cans, and the real kicker was that many of the cans had the tell-tale grease pencil-marked prices of Storehouse Markets, branding them as being at least 15 years old, maybe older. Every year, most of the contents of that charity box ended up in my garbage can.

That experience has made me keenly aware of the “stuff” I donate. I no longer donate clothes to Deseret Industries if they’re stained or are missing buttons – I give clothes that have never quite fit right or that didn’t match the skirt I bought to wear with them, but nothing torn or seriously worn. When the ward or the mail carriers do their drives for the community food pantry, I buy new jars of peanut butter – name brand – and donate that. Why should I expect “the poor and needy” to wear rags I wouldn’t wear myself? or to eat what I wouldn’t dare feed to a dog I loved?

Memories of those distasteful charity boxes were revived recently by talk in the bloggernacle about a possible new thrust of charitable church activity. Commenters shared unverifiable anecdotes of church welfare cheats, and created the mental image of a cadre of fiscal spies searching through the garbage cans of charity recipients to be sure they weren’t being wasteful of holy Mammon: How dare the poor feed a pet? How dare they order a Domino’s pizza? How dare their phone bills show long distance calls? In other words, why aren’t they eating decades-old cans of Storehouse Markets mushrooms? Beggars can’t be choosers – eat my garbage, you despis-ed poor and needy!

I am reminded of a letter written by Ned Desaules in 1876, when he was helping to build the St. George Temple as his united order’s donation to that effort. He wrote to his aunt:

I work without pay, and I depend on the good Saints for my support and the means to clothe myself. At present my board is not of the best, and my clothes will soon be all worn out. But I am patient. Although it seems to me that when you work for the good Lord you work for a poor payer, seeing that he receives nothing for tithing except a little flour, some bad butter and a little meat. There are so few Saints who pay their tithing as they ought to.

And I am reminded of a story from David O. McKay:

I thank my earthly father for the lesson he gave to two boys in a hayfield at a time when tithes were paid in kind. We had driven out to the field to get the tenth load of hay, and then over to a part of the meadow where we had taken the ninth load, where there was “wire grass” and “slough grass.” As we started to load the hay, Father called out, “No, boys, drive over to the higher ground.” There was timothy and redtop there. But one of the boys called back (and it was I), “No, let us take the hay as it comes!”

“No, David, that is the tenth load, and the best is none too good for God.”

That is the most effective sermon on tithing I have ever heard in my life.

(Cherished Experiences in the Writings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955], pp. 19–20).

If we are ever going to be a Zion people, each of us needs to learn to “esteem his brother as himself” (D&C 38:24). If worn out clothing and mushrooms old enough to qualify for a driver’s license are the best we have, so be it and God bless. But  “the best is none too good for God.”



29 Comments »

  1. I know some seminary teachers that agree with Ned, “when you work for the good Lord you work for a poor payer,” but they always joke that the “retirement” benefits are great!

    Comment by Clark — December 21, 2009 @ 8:41 am

  2. Pres George Albert Smith recalls as a young boy walking the streets of SLC with his father. A drunk came up and asked for money to eat. Pres Smith’s father reached into his pocket and gave the man sufficient to eat. Little George remanded his father, telling him that the man would surely spend it on liquor. His father calmly responded, while that was probably true, he would rather give to 10 men and only one of them use it on food, than to have one man go hungry.
    LDS have gotten caught up in Mammon. We all need to go back and reread Nibley’s Approaching Zion.

    Comment by Rameumptom — December 21, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  3. Thank goodness the poor are now allowed to have a dishwasher!

    I have eaten at the Lord’s table a few times due to sudden changes in fortune. Storehouse food can get monotonous and it works better as a base for a meal when you have enough resources to plus it up a little (bacon ends and pieces are worderful-cheap and flavorful). Somethings I found entirely unpalatable. I learned to cut the spaghetti sauce at least 50/50 with tomato paste or I could hardly swallow it. I feel sorry for those who must subsist entirely on church welfare.

    A supplemental basket with some extras could really make someone’s day. A few cans of mushrooms would not necessarily be amiss, but anything you give should be healthful. Never use a food drive as a way to clean out the pantry. If you want to throw it out, the recipient probably will want to do the same. If its all they have they will eat it, but you will hardly have blessed their lives. A bulging or rusting can could kill someone if it makes it that far, and giving it to an aid agency adds to their burden by making them have to dispose of it. It is OK to give items you are rotating out of your pantry, but only if they are before the “use by” date.

    Most food drives advertise what they are after and the top items are usually canned meat and peanut butter. They also go for packged items like mac & cheese. We buy that in case lots since the children love it, so it is easy to find a few boxes to give.

    If you want to give items that require refrigeration, call the agency ahead and ask if they can take it and how to get it to them. Many food storage items require special preparation and may be appropriate for an institution rather than a food bank. Give accordingly.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 21, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  4. Thank you.

    Comment by Ugly Mahana — December 21, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  5. That’s a crazy story, Ardis! Blech!

    Thanks for turning it into a lovely reminder of the best we can do for our fellows.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — December 21, 2009 @ 9:50 am

  6. This is a great post incorporating all sorts of wonderful stuff. Plus it is inspiring!

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 21, 2009 @ 9:56 am

  7. But Ardis my dear how would we every get rid of that odd/old food item that some how got into our pantry?
    I do agree about some of the food drives I’ve seen, seems like it is pantry cleaning time.
    But I’ve also seen drvies where cetain items and brands were asked for. It really added to the quality and some more cost but well recieved by those that needed it. Why shouldn’t the poor eat well. Poor doesn’t automatically exempt you from good food or clothing. We can be very judgemental. Maybe we have become like the Jews of old, hypocrites and judgers everyone and everything.
    Eric I thought the food from the storehouse was better good.

    Comment by Mex Davis — December 21, 2009 @ 9:59 am

  8. I live just a few blocks from the Bishops’ Storehouse in the New Orleans area. A few years ago, I was helping in the storehouse and was given the assignment to sort through a box of scriptures that had been donated by church members.

    Lots of us had scriptures lost or damaged by Katrina, but this box was full of books donated by members who had scriptures they couldn’t quite bring themselves to throw away, but figured that we Katrina survivors would be desperate enough for the Word of God that we wouldn’t mind the ragged condition. Many of them had missing covers or pages. I pulled out three or four that were in good enough condition to donate to the missionaries, and threw about 40 in the dumpster. Some were in no better shape than books that were damaged in the flood.

    I guess in some sense, the donors’ hearts were in the right place, but a case of brand new scriptures really isn’t that expensive. Church members throughout the country helped in countless ways with our recovery, and we will always be grateful. But when someone has lost every material thing they owned, and volunteers are stripping moldy sheetrock from your home, a brand new Book of Mormon would have been much more appropriate than one more item that looks like it was recovered from a natural disaster.

    Comment by Left Field — December 21, 2009 @ 10:11 am

  9. Ardis, once again, you are completely right. I always learn something new when you share your perspective.

    I am careful when choosing items from my pantry and storage for food drives, mostly because I’m full of pride and am embarrassed to donate old stuff. And I also was told once that the food bank won’t accept outdated food.

    But I probably should buy peanut butter more often, because for years my family has only eaten jars way past the sell by date. We always donate the newest jars.

    Comment by Ahna — December 21, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  10. I’m grateful for these understanding comments — I was a bit anxious that the reception would be negative, as insulting or offending people who give in the right spirit but whose gifts, through thoughtlessness, do less good than they might have done. Maybe there will be some of that reaction later, but in the meantime, thank you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 21, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  11. Elder Marion D. Romney, in a talk regarding the Welfare Program and touching on Matthew 25:31-40 recounted:
    “I know President George Albert Smith understood this scripture. I remember when we were gathering clothes to ship to Europe for our people in distress. I remember the packages he sent. In one were two suits of clothes, direct from the cleaners. I doubt if President Smith had ever worn them. In another came shirts from the laundry, wrapped in cellophane paper, ready to be worn. In other packages we received were thousands of pounds of clothing, much of it ragged, dirty, and unfit to wear. I contemplated at that time, and I do now, how the donors of those goods would feel when they realized the truth of this statement of the Master, that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew, 25:40.)”
    (http://search.ldslibrary.com/article/view/148282)

    When Truman Madsen told this story, he added that, when someone objected to his giving the shirts wrapped in cellophane as too fine to donate, Pres. Smith replied, “But, that’s the way I would want to receive them.”

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — December 21, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  12. Perfect! Now I no longer fear what direction comments may take!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 21, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  13. Do they give niblets for titles of posts?

    One of the ongoing learning processes of my life revolves around figuring out how to help people and do it right. It’s a lot harder than just having the impulse and acting on it. Well, usually. I guess you can overthink that sometimes, which I am prone to do, but a little thought put into your effort can make the difference between really helping another or just helping yourself feel good.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — December 21, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  14. I forgot to add that I know a man who goes to DI for old t-shirts to use as rags in his business. For that reason I will include all my t shirts in a DI box regardless of their condition. But I do wash ‘em first.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — December 21, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  15. Also, do I get any commenter points for actually having shopped at Storehouse Market back in the day?

    My apologies for the fractured comments. My brain isn’t up to it’s job today.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — December 21, 2009 @ 11:44 am

  16. Charities in Atlanta do sell the ragged clothes to other countries where they turn them into good products.

    That being said – just remember the Golden Rule if you are asked to donate to a food drive or a clothing swap. Our stake has done both a couple of times per year (summer and winter) and I see both the best and the worst. I used to be stunned by the worst, but now I have started to understand that people apparently don’t know better or don’t think better.

    Only give what you yourself would want personally.
    And as others have said and quoted from scripture – only give the Lord what you would give your BEST FRIEND and King and what you would have Him impart to you.

    Comment by Allison — December 21, 2009 @ 11:55 am

  17. Ardis,

    My goodness! I can remember the Storehouse Market in Provo – a dive of a place, but cheap for students like myself.

    You bring up a good point about donating quality goods. It’s been said that there is a Seinfeld episode for everything in life. On one episode Elaine decides to donate the bottom of muffins from her new muffin store which served only muffin tops. When she took the unwanted bottoms to a charity organization the receptionist asked, “Where are the tops to these muffins? Don’t you think that poor people like to eat the tops of muffins too!?”

    I am laughing just thinking about that episode. But the main point is no laughing matter – people receiving charity like nice things too.

    Comment by Dave C. — December 21, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  18. While I was serving on the high council, part of my assignment included all activities relating to the DI. We have a trailer at one of our buildings in our stake year round, and I frequently checked on the trailer to make sure it was being used properly.

    Too often, I saw what looked to me like the corollaries to your old bulging cans of mushrooms: worn-out furniture, odd discarded home decorating accessories (lots of plastic plants), and broken stuff. That experience helped me to understand what you are talking about, Ardis. We can do better.

    In an experience similar to yours, a good friend of mine had a brother and four sisters being raised by a single mom after his father abandoned the family. She was kind of quirky anyway, but she told me a couple of times that she would donate clothing and items to the ward secret Santa drive, only to get them back on Christmas day. She thought it was funny. She didn’t make a lot of money, but everyone assumed that as a single mother of 6 kids, she must be needy.

    Comment by kevinf — December 21, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  19. Having been on the receiving end of many baskets, I wholeheartedly agree with you, Ardis. Whenever I bring meals or donate food, I try to give things I would enjoy receiving.

    Additionally, most people would rather receive one box of Kraft mac and cheese than a dozen of a store brand. The principle goes for toys, clothes, books, less quantity, more quality.

    Comment by Jami — December 21, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

  20. Great post and discussion. It’s made me resolve to do better at being a more generous giver.

    One of the local Deseret Industries managers is in our Ward and he made an impression a while back when he told me how much abject junk the D.I. receives but has to refuse. If a donated item is ruined, torn, tattered, etc., etc., he said, they don’t mess with it: they immediately put it in a bin to ship to the dump. I had a “duh” moment and realized that I was wasting my time donating things that I knew they wouldn’t accept. (Unfortunately, this modification of mine wasn’t out of any sense of charity for the poor.)

    So, thanks for the reminder to be a little smarter — and kinder — when giving things to those in need.

    Comment by Hunter — December 21, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  21. P.S. Keepa Word of the Day: “grease pencil”

    Comment by Hunter — December 21, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

  22. I feel sorry for those who must subsist entirely on church welfare.

    If you’re talking about the quality of the food, I challenge you to spend some time in the bishop’s storehouse helping fill orders. I did on one Saturday, and I was astounded at the quality of the food and the generous quantities given those who came in.

    Halfway through the shift, the full-time missionaries who served there made us lunch using only food from the shelves. I have seldom eaten so well.

    (Your mileage may vary. I was at the storehouse in Carrollton, TX.)

    Comment by queuno — December 21, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

  23. Thanks for this.

    Comment by Amy — December 21, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

  24. queuno, manna gets monotonous. Even if you add fresh quail. We’re all such mortals.

    Comment by Jami — December 21, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

  25. Queuno-

    I have no complaint. The storehouse food kept us going through a rough patch. I am glad it was there. The quality of the food was fine. It was nutricious and wholesome. Some things just didn’t agree with me and I am glad I had enough cash for the bacon, the tomato paste and a little garlic.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 22, 2009 @ 7:53 am

  26. I add to my sister’s thanks.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — December 22, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  27. Very good post, Ardis. This has been a hard year, and our bishop made a special request to those who could, to contribute generously to the various programs the ward was doing. I feel fortunate to be privy to much of what was donated, and even thinking about it now, I feel close to tears by the generosity shown by our ward members. There are definitely those who understand the principle behind giving.

    Comment by Martin — December 22, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  28. Thank you again, all, for your wonderful comments and your understanding that, aside from criticism of some recent ‘nacle comments elsewhere, this is intended as encouragement to be more thoughtfully generous, not as condemnation of those who answer the impulse to give but without thinking to place themselves in the position of the receiver.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 22, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  29. Ardis, I appreciate you posting this information and story. As a second term RS president, I am privy to the stories of many families needing help. Each one is different, but each mother or father is humbled by his or her circumstances and is very grateful for the help received. I would be appalled if I sent dirty, damaged clothing or outdated food to the food bank and have some of it given to these families in my ward. Because of that, I always strive to donate newly purchased food for the food drives, and clothes in good condition to the DI.

    Comment by Maurine — December 22, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

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