FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A group of northern Arizona residents would like your help raising money, food and hygiene products for hundreds of mothers and children they say are trapped in a world of secrecy and despair along the Arizona-Utah border.
Up until a few weeks ago, we hadn't heard much about Colorado City and Hildale, Utah. The twin towns operate under the leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Days Saints. They’re communities where social workers say true stories of forced polygamy and child brides play out even today.
Last week 12 News showed you how 11 top-ranking leaders of the FLDS church were indicted, charged with food stamp fraud and money laundering. Officials say this group defrauded taxpayers out of at least $12 million over the last few years. However, taxpayers aren’t the only victims here: innocent church members are suffering now.
While the 11 members are facing felony charges, social workers say the majority of the church members living there are getting the brunt of the backlash. Their allegation is that those 11 people took food from needy church members and shared it with only a select group of parishioners, leaving many other families to survive on very little, often only rice and beans, baby food, and loaves of bread.
And with those 11 leaders out of the picture for now, townspeople are having to unravel a series of twisted events that have left many people without enough to eat, social workers say.
That’s where Myra Ferrill-Womochil of Flagstaff comes in.
“I have a really hard time imagining thousands of children not having enough to eat,” Ferrill-Womachil said.
A couple of times this year, she’s collected food and other items and driven them four hours to the border to give them to operators of the Southwest Recovery Mission Ministries. That group works to help needy FLDS members can feed their families.
The volunteers don’t agree with the FLDS doctrine, but do say it’s morally right to help any group of people who is malnourished, especially babies and children who have no voice.
“I don’t care if you’re Mormon or Catholic, Baptist or where you come from -- even Buddhists and Muslims have core teachings about looking after your neighbor,” said former FLDS member Phil Jessop.
Jessop says leaders within the church have been mistreating residents for many for years. He says since the recent federal indictments, the already-stressed community really needs help since the now-jailed church leaders let them down.
“They’re grateful for a baggie of beans, and a bag of rice,” said Donna McGinnis, director of the nonprofit ministry. She left a business career in Chicago to study theology at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix and moved to the Colorado City area.
McGinnis, a devout Christian, says her work with Jessop and others is imperative to the survival of hundreds of people in Colorado City.
These volunteers say they’re serving God when they’re helping the FLDS members who struggle with not only a shortage of food, but also disappointment in their FLDS leadership, a lack of education and a direction in life.
This is a complicated situation that won’t be easily resolved, but until the tumultuous days pass, Ferrill-Womochil, Jessop and McGinnis say they’ll continue their quest to treat even those whose faith differs from their own, as human beings who deserve, at minimum, the basic necessities to live.
If you would like to donate food, clothing or toiletries, you’re encouraged to visit southwestrecoverymissionministries.org or call Coconino County Victim Witness at (928) 779-6163.