When Gov. Janet Napolitano visited the Bishop’s Storehouse complex of the Mormon Church in Mesa on Wednesday, she saw a one-stop social service shop that had some surprising things to offer the rest of the state.
"They have more than just foodstuffs," Napolitano said. "They have chain saws and other equipment, and I want to make sure they’re linked into the homeland security plan."
Wednesday’s tour was a follow-up to her trip last fall with Mormon legislators and dignitaries to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Salt Lake City headquarters. It included a stop at Welfare Square, and Napolitano asked if there was a similar facility in Arizona.
Napolitano said she’s looking for ways to form "linkages" between the state and nonprofit agencies, faith-based and otherwise, during her visit to the churchoperated complex.
Napolitano’s press aide, Jeannine L’Ecuyer, said the governor recently appointed Byron Garrett as her policy adviser on faith-based initiatives.
Liz Barker, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Economic Services, said the state contracts with more than a dozen faith-based agencies, and the agreements take care of most church-state separation issues. "The contracts spell out very clearly what can and can’t be done," she said.
The Mormon complex at 235 S. El Dorado, Mesa, — easy to locate under its grain elevators near Broadway Road and Loop 101 — includes a cannery, help with finding jobs and a family services center with 22 counselors and an adoption service.
The Bishop’s Storehouse is similar to a small-town market, except that church volunteers with clipboards accompany nonpaying customers through the shelves as they fill orders for food and supplies made by Mormon bishops on their behalf.
Shopper Karen Martin of Mesa, a mother of six, said her family was thrown into a rough patch by auto repair and other bills.
She didn’t know what she would say to the state’s top elected official, other than "I guess I just appreciate that there has always been assistance if we need it."
The complex is mostly used by Mormon Church members, but bishops may refer anyone who lives within their geographic area for assistance.
Napolitano was accompanied by an entourage including church officials, state legislators and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Jones.
State Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, said religious organizations are often more efficient in helping those in need than the public sector.
"This is a prime model, a pristine model, of how social services can be provided by a faith-based center," she said.