By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Barbara Payne inserted her credit card into a giant red vending machine and punched some numbers.
For $75, the Gilbert resident bought a goat that will go to someone in need in another country.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for people to pour out their heart and be generous and show their gratitude for what they have,” she said. “I’ll come back and contribute to local groups.”
Payne was the first person to use one of two “Giving Machines” unveiled last Thursday by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Water Town Plaza.
Gilbert is one of only five locations in the world that will have the machines now through Dec. 31. The others are in New York, Salt Lake City, London and Manila.
The church chose four Valley charities that will benefit from the donations – A New Leaf, Helen’s Hope Chest, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and United Food Bank. Global charity partners include CARE, UNICEF, WaterAid and Water for People.
The machines are part of the church’s Light the World campaign the church holds each Christmas season. It asks people to take the 25 days leading up to Christmas and turn it into a season of helping others in need.
“We have all felt the joy when we give something of ourselves,” said Sister Reyna Aburto. “As we participate in the campaign, we realize there is joy in giving. No matter our circumstance, we all can help. Jesus Christ is the light of the world and when we help others, we are sharing his light around the world.”
She said all donations will go directly to the charities with the church covering the administration costs. Aburto, who came down from Salt Lake City for the event, is Second Counselor in the church’s Relief Society.
The two machines, which sit near the town’s iconic water tower, are stocked with items that can be donated such as food, clothing, medicine, hygiene supplies, wheelchairs, sporting equipment and livestock.
People can buy three soccer balls for $45, school supplies for $20, a pair of boots for $50, polio vaccine for $19, malaria treatment for $31, two live chickens for $21, one holiday turkey for $10 and one box of fresh produce for $5.
Donors can see pictures of the item, the charity that it benefits and the price. Once purchased, a picture of the item drops to the bottom of the machine and shows where it will be distributed.
Some are actual goods, such as a bag of mac and cheese for $3 and a mosquito net for $25.
“The items you see in the machines are very basic, school supplies, Christmas gifts, things we take for granted,” said Katie Pompay, executive director of Helen’s Hope Chest, a Mesa nonprofit that provides supplies such as clothes to foster children and teens. “These children don’t have that.”
Pompay said there are more than 14,000 foster children in Arizona.
“Consider what these small items mean to you and the big difference it will make in the lives of children and teens,” she said.
CEO Michael Hughes of A New Leaf in Mesa, which provides a number of service to the homeless and domestic violence victims, thanked the church for its help during the 48 years the nonprofit has existed.
“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help those who are less fortunate,” he said.
Dave Richins, CEO of United Food Bank in Mesa, said he was proud of his church.
“The vending machines are a clever concept,” he said. “There’re lots of families to feed and we will feed more with the machines.”
It’s unfortunate that 500,000 children in Arizona go to bed hungry, said Tom Kerits, CEO of St. Mary’s in Phoenix, which covers 81,000 square miles.
“What you see in these vending machines is a basic need and a basic right – food,” he said. “With these vending machines, we will put food on people’s tables, nutritious food.”
Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels also spoke, thanking the church and announcing that Express Flooring was donating $1,000 to the cause.
Last year was the first time the church used the Giving Machine. A single machine in Salt Lake City raised more than $550,000 for local and global charities. That success led the church to expand the program this year.
“Our hope is that there will be more placements next year, based on the success with the five machines placed throughout the world this year,” said Jennifer Wheeler, a church spokeswoman.
Several factors were considered to determine the location of the giving machines, according to Wheeler.
The location had to be one where the machines could be in place continuously for one month, where the public could have easy access throughout the day and would be strongly supported by local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The Water Tower Plaza in Gilbert fit all of these criteria,” Wheeler said.
The charities that the church chose were ones it has previously worked with, according to Wheeler.
“Specifically, they are all valuable partners that use our volunteer platform, JustServe.org to post volunteer opportunities and find volunteers,” she said. “We admire what they do in the community to alleviate homelessness and hunger and assist foster children.
“These charitable partners also have needs that work well with the vending machines, such as food items, clothing, supplies, etc.”
The goal is to beat the $550,000 raised, said Edwin Lamoreaux, director of public relations for the church. He added although the church is driving the campaign, it is a community effort involving all faiths and all people.