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Roots of the modern Church welfare system tap into early stakes

Roots of the modern Church welfare system tap into early stakes

The roots of the modern Church welfare system reach into the histories of stakes in the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, and members of today's worldwide Church continue to reap the fruits of the seeds of faith and industry planted in those early years.

Following the stock market crash of 1929, which ushered in the Depression, six Salt Lake City stakes - Salt Lake, Granite, Liberty, Pioneer, Ensign and Grant - formed the Deseret Employment Bureau to seek work for their members. Months later, the Cottonwood Stake joined the bureau.The men presiding over those stakes in 1929 included Nephi L. Morris, Salt Lake Stake; Harold B. Lee, Pioneer Stake; Bryant S. Hinckley, Liberty Stake; Winslow F. Smith, Ensign Stake; Hugh B. Brown, Granite Stake; Joseph J. Daynes, Grant Stake; and Henry D. Moyle, Cottonwood Stake.

President Lee later became Church president, and both President Moyle and President Brown served in the First Presidency.

In 1930 the Presiding Bishopric, drawing on the resources of the Deseret Employment Bureau, formed a committee to study and propose solutions to the unemployment problem. Pres. Moyle, then president of the Cottonwood Stake, was called to chair the committee.

By 1932, the bureau began to emphasize "labor and exchange," placing the unemployed with local farmers, who paid harvest laborers with a share of the harvested crops.

During this period, many stakes implemented programs to help minimize the desperate economic circumstances of their members. A field was converted to a large garden plot in the Pioneer Stake, and the Pioneer and Salt Lake stakes combined to establish a bishops' storehouse (see story on page 10). Nearby Liberty Stake also established a storehouse during the summer of 1932.

The Liberty Stake opened a "wood yard" and a soap factory, and the Cottonwood Stake acquired five acres, planted fruit trees and established a cannery.

The stakes entered into cooperative arrangements with farmers to the north and south of Salt Lake City, providing labor in return for a share of the harvests. The produce was processed and bottled, then distributed to the needy through the storehouses.

These cooperative stake efforts continued through 1935. Based on the lessons learned during these early efforts, the First Presidency of the Church, in April 1936, inaugurated the Church Security Plan (renamed the Welfare Program in 1937). The intent was to provide the blessings of Church welfare to all stakes.

Pres. Lee, president of the Pioneer Stake, was appointed director of the Church Security Plan. In the remaining years of the 1930s, Church leaders urged every stake to take steps to ensure that enough food and clothing were available to allow bishops to care for their ward members, and to establish welfare employment and production programs.

Pres. Lee told one group of stake presidents and bishops working to get the Welfare Program organized in their areas: "What the future may bring, I do not know. . . . There is no person in the Church today who knows the real reason for which it has been organized. But hardly before the Church has made sufficient preparation, that purpose will be revealed, and when it comes it will challenge every resource of the Church to meet it."

In 1938, the First Presidency called Stewart B. Eccles to study the operation of Goodwill Industries in providing employment to the needy through the refurbishing and sales of donated goods. As a result of the study, Deseret Industries was established in August 1938. Its principal mission was and still is to provide work opportunities that train the handicapped and unemployable, and place them in permanent employement.

The Church also purchased land in 1938 to establish a cannery and storehouse that could serve the needs of all stakes in the Salt Lake Pioneer Region. Construction of this original storehouse at Welfare Square began during 1938 and was completed in 1939.

The years from 1932 to 1942 saw the establishment of an employment program, Church welfare farms, canneries, storehouses and Deseret Industries.

As the Depression faded at the onset of World War II, much of the welfare need in the Church disappeared. Full employment returned, and the war years saw the return of a vigorous American economy.

The focus of Church welfare then shifted from efforts to meet the temporal needs of a large unemployed segment of the Church population to establishing welfare operations sufficient to provide for the poor and needy of the Church: the widows and fatherless, disabled and those temporarily unemployed.

Through the 1960s, emphasis was placed on establishing a welfare project in every stake. Farms, ranches, canneries, clothing mills and many other facilities producing basic commodities were operated by stakes throughout the western United States and in other parts of the country. Priorities were given to making the storehouse system accessible to all bishops, and to preparing members to remain self-sufficient in the ever-uncertain future.

Growing concurrently with the storehouse system of the Church was an emphasis on home production and storage and other aspects of personal and family preparedness. Church welfare resources were not intended to meet the needs of all Church members. Rather, they were intended to help meet the needs of the few who cannot provide for themselves. Most of the resources required to meet possible widespread needs in the future were stored at home by faithful members who obeyed the Church's counsel to store a year's supply of "food, clothing, and where possible, fuel."

About 1975, the need was recognized to bring the many locally operated welfare facilities under a central administrative umbrella. Welfare Services was established in its current form. However, agent stakes were still assigned to assist with operations, and local priesthood and Relief Society leaders provided guidance through regional welfare committees on which they served.

In addition to the commodity production and distribution system, Welfare Services operated employment centers and Deseret Industries. The Church also contracts with LDS Social Services to provide counseling, and licensed services in the areas of adoption, foster care and service to unwed mothers.

In 1983, modifications in the production system of the Church were announced. Priesthood leaders continued to manage those projects necessary to provide for the poor and needy of the Church. A few projects were sold. Many others were reclassified into a taxable status, placed under professional management and held in reserve for possible future needs. Continued emphasis was placed on personal and family preparedness, and members were encouraged to give increased Christian service in their wards and communities as they previously had done on the various welfare projects.

President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency and chairman of the General Welfare Services Executive Committee of the Church, spoke recently of the unfolding of the Lord's welfare plan through the years and recalled his early years as a bishop in the Pioneer Stake: "Appearing as a golden thread woven through the tapestry of the welfare program is the truth taught by the Apostle Paul: `The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.' (2 Cor. 3:6.)

"I am grateful my welfare roots go deep into the soil of the Pioneer Stake and the Pioneer Welfare Region, where giants of our time - Harold B. Lee, Paul C. Child, William F. Perschon and Jesse M. Drury - taught, testified and inspired.

"There is currently a pressing need for members of regional and area councils to assume their full responsibility and be similarly taught and inspired.

"I recall that our regional welfare meetings were not conducted in the comfort of modern chapels with carpeted floors and padded pews. Rather, we assembled in the storehouse itself, with stocked shelves on either side, a cement floor beneath our feet, and the aroma of foodstuffs filling the air. This was our storehouse, erected so that we could care for our people, and we were proud of it. No soiled eggs in tattered cartons here, no unwashed field carrots to be distributed to our poor and needy. This storehouse was stocked with commodities produced with the labor of our hands, the sweat of our brows and the consecration of our time. This was the Lord's storehouse, and nothing was too good for the Lord.

"As the meeting concluded, the lights were turned off and, subdued in spirit and quickened in faith, we would leave our welfare sanctuary by those same doors through which would enter the Lord's needy. We had been on holy ground, and we knew it."

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