From the time of their baptism at age eight, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to tithe. The church also asks the able-bodied to fast for two consecutive meals on one Sunday every month and donate what would have been spent to help the needy. These disciplines have made Mormons America’s biggest givers.
Among other effects, this giving has allowed their church hierarchy to build the most robust welfare system in the country. From its nineteenth-century beginnings, the LDS church has had a tradition of creating storehouses that provide food for the hungry. This system was expanded and refined amidst the hardships of the Great Depression, when it proved highly effective in rescuing people from want.
Wherever the church has congregations there is a facility where groceries, clothing, furniture, and other staples are available to any person who receives a slip from his or her bishop certifying need. The church has developed a network of its own farms, ranches, dairies, canneries, and other food processing and storage facilities to produce goods, and a central storehouse of roughly 600,000 square feet now serves five regional storehouses which redistribute to more than 200 smaller local storehouses. The church also operates 40 thrift stores.
Church officials broker employment between those who need jobs and those who have work to offer. And counseling and help navigating service providers is available to those with marital or health problems. The church focuses on its members, but also assists others outside of its congregations, including large numbers overseas.
The principle of mutual aid governs all interventions. “The real long-term objective of the welfare plan is the building of character in the members of the church—givers and receivers,” explains an official. “The aim of the church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our church membership.”
As a current LDS leader told Philanthropy, when serving the needy today, there is a growing tendency to “wait for experts with specialized knowledge to solve specific problems. When we do this, we deprive our neighbor of the service we could render. And we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to serve.”
- Philanthropy magazine reporting, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/a_welfare_system_that_works
- Historical memoir in the American Enterprise, unz.org/Pub/AmEnterprise-1995sep-00031
- Glenn Rudd, Pure Religion: The Story of Church Welfare Since 1930 (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995)