Thomas S. Monson is the current Mormon prophet. In October of 1977, before he was a prophet, he spoke about the Mormon welfare program.
Read The Way of the Lord.
Mormons have a unique welfare program, one that was praised by Ronald Reagan. This system allows each person in the Church to contribute to a special fund, called a Fast offering, to care for Mormons in need. They also volunteer their time to help. Then, should they find themselves in need someday, they can utilize this fund, contributing additional service hours to help “pay” for what they receive. This allows them to retain their self-esteem and self-sufficiency.
The Mormon welfare program begins with fast offerings. Once a month, Mormons volunteer to go without food or drink for twenty-four hours. This is usually done the first Sunday of each month and actually only requires a person to miss two meals. During this time, which is called fasting, they pray and try to focus as much as possible on spiritual things. The Bible teaches us that fasting can increase our spirituality. We might recall that Jesus fasted at the start of His mission. That Sunday, they donate at least the amount of money they saved by not eating or drinking to the Fast Offering fund. This money is used exclusively to care for Mormons in need. (A separate fund, through the Humanitarian Aid program, provides humanitarian care for people who are not LDS.)
Mormons are encouraged to do all they can to assist themselves. One way they do this is to store a year’s supply of everything they might need to survive for a year of unemployment or other hardship. They are also encouraged to assist their own families. However, if Mormons exhaust their personal resources and family cannot help, they can turn to the Mormon Church for assistance. They meet with their bishop (similar to a pastor) to determine their needs and to discuss their budgets. Mormons in difficult times are not helped to maintain their previous standard of living, but only to stay alive and reasonably comfortable. They are expected to make as many budget cuts as possible prior to asking for help. The bishop then determines what is needed and authorizes it. Recipients are not given cash. Instead, necessary bills are paid for them and an authorization form to the storehouse is given.
Bishop’s storehouses are a key to this program. They look like small grocery stores, but the checkout counter does not have a cash register. Recipients select the groceries they need from a list and the bishop reviews it and makes changes as needed. (These changes might give them less, but it just as often gives them more than they asked for if they were too cautious.) They take the form to the storehouse where volunteers assist them in “shopping” from the shelves, collecting the items they were approved to receive. These items involve high quality fruits, milk, juices, vegetables, meats, baking supplies, hygiene materials, cleaning supplies, baby supplies and other things needed to meet the needs of the family. They are given enough to last two weeks. Instead of a cash register, the recipient simply reviews the list with a volunteer to make sure they didn’t forget anything on their list. Surplus food is donated to food banks in the local community. In addition, the canneries used to preserve the food are often donated to other organizations, such as the Red Cross, to use in serving the general population.
In exchange for these services, Mormons are asked to take on additional volunteer responsibilities as they are able. Many work for an hour at the storehouse before filling their own order. Many volunteer to assist in welfare assignments—the church operates its own canneries and farms in many areas to prepare the food and this work is done by volunteers—or do other types of service. The service doesn’t equal what they have received, but it gives them a feeling of having contributed to their own well-being and allows them to feel more comfortable accepting help. And of course, they have contributed to the well-being of others in need during their more prosperous times.
In addition to these services, Mormons can learn how to get a job, improve their literacy skills, and develop other skills that will help them better care for themselves in the future.
Thomas Monson said of the program:
No member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has canned peas, topped beets, hauled hay, or shoveled coal in such a cause ever forgets or regrets the experience of helping provide for those in need. Devoted men and women help to operate this vast and inspired program. In reality, the plan would never succeed on effort alone, for this program operates through faith after the way of the Lord.
President Monson offered a Biblical example of the commandment to share what we have with others, even at great sacrifice to ourselves. In 1 Kings, we read about a humble widow living in the midst of a terrible drought. She was very nearly out of food, with barely enough to make one last meager meal for herself and her son, and then anticipated that they would then simply wait for death. At this critical moment, the prophet Elijah arrived and asked her to make him a meal. She explained their circumstances, but he persisted.
Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.
“And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
“And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail.” (1 Kgs. 17:9–11, 13–16.)
President Monson asks us to imagine the courage it took for this widow to walk into her home and do what was asked, knowing it was the last of their food. This willingness to care for others at great sacrifice is a necessary component of any humanitarian effort. For Mormons, if they choose to give only what they saved, there is no financial loss, but there is a physical sacrifice that comes from going without food. Most Mormons choose to give more than they saved, or to imagine they would have had a feast, not bargain meals during that time of fasting.
He told of a man who contacted him when he was a bishop to say he was sending a semi-truck filled with produce from his farm to the storehouse. He wanted them to know it was coming so they could prepare, but he did not want anyone to know who was sending it.
He mentions visiting an elderly disabled friend and discovering the house was cold because the man couldn’t afford to heat it and that things were generally falling apart. He contacted a local bishop to see if there might be volunteers available to help out. The bishop quickly lined up people eager to contribute to the project. One month later, President Monson returned to the home:
The sidewalks which had been uprooted by large poplar trees had been replaced, the porch of the home rebuilt, a new door with glistening hardware installed, the ceilings lowered, the walls papered, the woodwork painted, the roof replaced, and the cupboards filled. No longer was the home chilly and uninviting. It now seemed to whisper a warm welcome. Lou saved until last showing me his pride and joy: there on his bed was a beautiful plaid quilt bearing the crest of his McDonald family clan. It had been made with loving care by the women of the Relief Society. Before leaving, I discovered that each week the Young Adults would bring in a hot dinner and share a home evening. Warmth had replaced the cold; repairs had transformed the wear of years; but more significantly, hope had dispelled despair and now love reigned triumphant.
All who participated in this moving drama of real life had discovered a new and personal appreciation of the Master’s teaching, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35.)
The difference between a government welfare program and the LDS program is one of love. Mormons are giving what they have to those in need because of their love for other people. Those who receive do what they can to repay what is given and to give to others in return. It is a unified cycle of people voluntarily helping people.