Philanthropy Roundtable featured a detailed article about a private welfare program that is succeeding at changing lives and helping people achieve self-sufficiency. This program is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often called Mormons. It helps Mormons to get through temporary difficult times and to give them the skills and resources to become independent. Additional programs serve people who are not Mormon world-wide.
For Mormons, the program is detailed. Although it is called a welfare program, it bears little resemblance to government welfare. Recipients do not receive a check to spend as they choose. They first meet with their ecclesiastical leader, a lay pastor who is called a bishop, to assess the family’s needs. These needs may be fairly comprehensive and so each program is completely personalized to meet those individual needs.
To cover the costs of this particular program, Mormons who are healthy are asked to fast for twenty-four hours the first Sunday of each month. They go without food or drink of any kind, including water, skipping two meals and all snacks. They then donate at least what they would have spent on food and drink to a special fund called the fast offering. This money funds the food and other commodities a person in their own congregation needs. If a congregation has few needs, their excess is used to help those congregations with greater needs and fewer who can provide it.
If a family requires food, cleaning supplies, and hygiene items, the bishop gives them a form that lists all the available foods. (Foods are purchased or internally grown and canned to provide a stable list.) They select what they need and the bishop reviews it to be certain they have not asked for more than they need—or less than they need. The Relief Society president (a woman who is over the women’s auxiliary) sometimes assists the family in creating their order. The family takes the order form to a storehouse which looks like a grocery store. Volunteers help them fill their order and they check out, but do not pay. Most stay an hour or two to volunteer before filling their own order.
Because this storehouse cares for a limited number of people, it can provide everything the family needs for two weeks. Food banks that serve everyone who walks through the door can generally only provide a grocery bag or two for those two weeks, not a cart or two. Although the storehouse is for Mormons, it means these Mormons will not visit community food banks and that leaves more resources for those without a safety net. When a storehouse has excess supplies, they donate them to community food banks. The Mormons also have canneries and donate time in them to local community charities.
While the church provides for immediate needs—food, clothing, and shelter—it also knows that if you want people to eventually be self-sufficient, you have to give them the skills they need. The church offers a variety of programs to this end, most available to the community as a whole. People of any faith with needs can attend addiction recovery programs, literacy programs (run by the women of the church) and parenting classes. An employment specialist teaches members how to create a resume and conduct an effective job search. Since the goal is self-sufficiency, they don’t find jobs for people. They teach them how to find their own jobs so they will always know how. Of course, members often do help one another find employment by referring the person to a job in his or her own company or sharing job leads. The employment specialist can also help a member become self-employed. If a member has another need, such as learning the language of the country or receiving instruction in how to use a computer, church members are asked to provide it.
Additional programs help those who are not Mormons. A world-wide humanitarian aid program provides food, clean water, health care and other services to people around the world regardless of faith. No proselytizing is done among those receiving the services and often the recipients don’t even know who is providing the care. In natural disasters, the Mormons are often first at the door with supplies and volunteers.
Read more about this unique program of self-help at PhilathropyRoundtable.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.