SALT LAKE CITY — Thomas S. Monson was an 8-year-old boy when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organized its welfare program on April 6, 1936. As a youngster, he worked on various welfare projects – from topping sugar beets to maintaining chicken coops.
He saw first-hand the gnawing pangs of hunger and the desperation of want. Through the welfare program and the teachings of his parents, he stepped up to do his part to provide for those in need. He has been at it ever since.
As president of the LDS Church, he encourages Latter-day Saints, and people of other faiths, to help others.
In the Sunday morning session of the 181st Annual General Conference of the church, he noted that this is the 75th anniversary of the Church Welfare Program, which he called "an inspired program which has blessed the lives of so many. … [and is] inspired of Almighty God."
A few weeks ago, President Monson sat down with the Church News to talk, primarily about the Church Welfare Program.
He spoke of being called in 1950 as a bishop in a Salt Lake City ward of 1,080 members, many of whom were in need. He was just 22 years old.
"I felt it was my responsibility as a bishop to find out who needed help, to make certain that it was handled in the way the Lord wanted us to handle it," he said. "How grateful I was for the welfare program of the church and for the help of the Relief Society and priesthood quorums.
"I could see that if it weren't for the Church Welfare Program, there would be many a night when children would go hungry." In those days, he said, many people "were too proud to beg — and they shouldn't have to beg."
He erred on the side of generosity, wanting people to have what they needed, and seeing to it that they got what they needed. If something wasn't available in the bishops' storehouse, he went elsewhere to get it.
Welfare Square was well-established by the time he became a bishop. (Welfare Square today includes a 178-foot-tall grain elevator, a storehouse, bakery, cannery, milk processing operation, thrift store and employment center.)
President Monson said it not only stocked items that people needed, but also gave recipients an opportunity to serve or work there and, in doing so, preserving dignity.
"The purpose of church welfare assistance is to help people to help themselves," President Monson said. "Recipients of these resources are given the opportunity to work, to the extent of their ability, for the assistance they receive."
He explained why so much emphasis is placed on the welfare program, saying, "The members of the church take most seriously the words of the Lord, as recorded in the 25th chapter of Matthew: 'For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. … Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'"
He said that the funding of the operation of the church worldwide is based on tithing. The poor and needy, however, are assisted though fast offerings.
"The concept of fast offerings appears as early as the time of Isaiah, who described the true fast by asking, 'Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy [reward]' (Isaiah 58:7).
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