The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (CJC-LDS) knows that often, it takes both.
And the structure of the Church’s internal welfare system reflects their mission to both assist and empower. It is an incredible network of worldwide resources and efforts, but at its essence, the system is comprised of the Bishop’s Storehouse, which distributes food and household commodities to those in need, and the Lord’s Storehouse, which represents the collective time, talents, skills, compassion and financial means of the Church members. These resources are largely devoted to helping those who are experiencing difficulties and assisting them to solve underlying problems in a way that leads to long-term temporal self-sufficiency and spiritual growth.
At the congregational level, each family has two home teachers and each women has two visiting teachers. These individuals are organized by the Priesthood leaders and the Relief Society Leaders the, respectively, men’s and women’s outreach organizations. The home teachers and the visiting teachers visit families, get to know them, help them and identify any unresolved needs to the congregation’s Bishop. The Bishop has the ability to marshal other resources, including an order for assistance from the Bishop’s Storehouse, a modern grocery store, where nothing is for sale.
Twice a week, the Bishop’s Storehouse is a bustle of volunteers packing up groceries and household supplies for those in need, which are picked up by nearby members, or trucked to those further out. Volunteers of all ages pack up fresh produce, dairy and meat, and draw from a substantial number of other goods, such as strawberry jam, macaroni and cheese, ketchup, raisins and dish soap, most of which bear the brand name Deseret.
Deseret is the CJC-LDS brand. The Bishop’s Storehouse is the tip of the assistance iceberg, the penultimate destination for goods that are grown, harvested, processed and delivered almost entirely by volunteers working on LDS-owned farms, processing, and transportation facilities.
These efforts are funded by individual fast offerings. LDS Church members skip two meals each month and contribute the total cost of their family’s meals, or more if they can afford it, to the Church to subsidize assistance for members who need it. In the Church’s early days in the 19th century, the fast offerings were more often contributed in the form of actual food. Congregants also contribute tithes of 10% of their income to support chapels, temples and universities.
As wonderful as it is to receive assistance, needing it can be a hard thing for an individual’s dignity and sense of self-respect. The goal of the Church is to empower, so, most recipients are given the chance to give back by providing services to the Church, such as helping with building maintenance. Where necessary, support for long-term solutions, such as education or vocational training, is also provided.
The Church membership enjoys a tremendous sense of collective identity, and members work together to help each other live happy and productive lives. The Church’s Personal Storehouse project helps members inventory the intangible assets that can lead to self-reliance and work to fill in what might be missing from a list that includes health, education, employment, resource management ability, faith and hope, social and emotional strength, and resilience and initiative. Services provided by volunteer Church Service Missionaries, and professionals from LDS Family Services and LDS Employment Services help members fill in the shelves of their personal storehouses as needed to become self-reliant.
These efforts are reflective of a culture that supports the spiritual goals of the faith, the essence of which is the ability to grow and learn and develop, to include every member as both a giver and a receiver who is spiritually strengthened in the process of creating and sharing a community where all members are thriving and productive.