Welfare Services in Perspective: A Conversation with R. Quinn Gardner, Managing Director of Welfare Services

R. Quinn Gardner


Ensign: When members of the Church hear “welfare plan,” they usually see “welfare farm.” Just what is covered by the relatively new term Welfare Services?

Brother Gardner: A lot! Pulling weeds or picking apples is just a fraction of what’s involved. Members of the Church have welfare responsibilities in three basic areas: prevention, temporary assistance, and rehabilitation. Prevention includes personal and family preparedness, and its operations are largely based in the home. Temporary assistance includes more than I can quickly summarize—here’s where things like fast offerings and welfare farms belong. Rehabilitation involves long-term compassionate service to members with special needs. (See related articles, pp. 5, 20, and 24, this issue.)

Ensign: So, stake welfare projects only constitute part of a member’s responsibilities?

Brother Gardner: True; it’s an important part, but it’s only a part.

Leader Responsibilities

Prevention

Priesthood quorums and Relief Society leaders foster personal and family preparedness.

Temporary Assistance

The Bishop, as assisted by priesthood quorum and Relief Society leaders, directs Welfare Services. He uses the storehouse resource system to provide needed assistance.

Rehabilitation

Priesthood quorums and Relief Society leaders give compassionate service to members with special needs.

Member Responsibilities

Prevention

Engage in personal and family preparedness.

Temporary Assistance

Support the storehouse resource system. Give a generous fast offering. Fulfill welfare services assignments.

Rehabilitation

Give compassionate service to members with special needs.

Accept assistance graciously when it is needed.

Work to the extent of ability for what is received.

Ensign: Another image we usually have is that welfare is only for the poor. Why is personal and family preparedness part of welfare services?

Brother Gardner: That’s an excellent question! Welfare services are for everyone—not just the poor. You’ve probably heard President Romney say that the welfare plan is preparation for the law of consecration. Well, one step in that direction is for each individual and family to be self-sufficient—developing their own resources and stewardships. The Lord is going to hold us accountable for multiplying our talents, you know. And it’s only when a family is able to take care of its own needs—not all, but most—that it can serve its neighbors.

Ensign: And the relationship to consecration is … ?

Brother Gardner: It’s from our consecrations—tithes, fast offerings, time, welfare farm produce, etc.—that we care for those in need; that is where “Church” resources come from. Welfare Services is an organized way to help us meet our covenant to “bear one another’s burdens.” (Mosiah 18:8)

Ensign: That’s part of our baptismal covenant—

Brother Gardner: And our temple covenants. I really believe that if people understood the relationship between working on the welfare farm and their covenants, they’d all be charging out there to work! Even if it were not always organized very well! I mean it; we know that there are elements of the temple covenant that relate to consecration, but if a person really understood the endowment, he would be first in line to work on a project or have foster children in his home. He would double or quadruple his fast offerings and really become a “standing minister” to a family as a home teacher. When we pass through the veil and are tested on the temple covenants, we won’t be able to pass the exam if we haven’t lived the covenants. It won’t be good enough to know them. The endowment has meaning only if it engenders a certain life-style—the Christlike life. And, in my judgment, about two-thirds of that life-style is based on service.

Ensign: But why do we have to go through Welfare Services? Can’t we just be of service on our own, doing little acts of charity?

Brother Gardner: Those private acts of charity are a crucial part of the picture. But they aren’t enough. We all need brotherhood and sisterhood experiences and you get those only as part of a group.

We say, “I’d rather fix Sister Brown’s fence than go bale hay with twenty other guys.” They’re both legitimate experiences. But you won’t get fellowship from one. Fellowship is part of the temple experience too, you remember, and if you don’t do brotherhood and sisterhood things, you just don’t make the temple experience a legitimate and sanctifying experience. If people understood their temple covenants, we wouldn’t need the handbook. We wouldn’t even need this article in the Ensign. All we’d need is the covenant and the sanctifying that comes with the covenant.

Furthermore, we need the organization because one individual or family just doesn’t have the resources to care for all the needy. Working together, we can multiply the labor, commodities, funds, and skills to match the needs. Have you ever tried to bale hay alone?

Ensign: What’s the difference between doing something by covenant and just paying tithing in hopes of getting the promised rewards?

Brother Gardner: Everything! You see, if I do something under covenant, I’m always doing it for two reasons. One is to serve the Master—pure obedience—and the other is for myself. It’s easy to understand if you’ve ever experienced being blessed that way. I can’t bless myself. I can only lay hands on you and you on me. The Lord never consecrates a world to himself. He gives it to his children, who consecrate it to him, and he accepts that consecration and in turn consecrates it to his Father. That’s why doing things under covenant will always purify and sanctify us, rather than cursing us by making us more selfish and more greedy. If you’ve had the experience you know what I’m talking about.

Ensign: What’s the Church’s role besides organizing all these individual members to help the needy?

Brother Gardner: It operates the Lord’s Storehouse Resource System. (See J. Richard Clarke, “The Storehouse Resource System,” Ensign, May 1978, pp. 82–84.) Now, usually we see shelves of canned goods when we say “storehouse” but we need to enlarge that concept too. The resource system is a network of goods and services—employment services, bishops’ storehouses, production projects, Deseret Industries, LDS Social Services, fast offerings, and other welfare resources. After the individual and family have used their resources to the maximum, then the Church through the bishop has the responsibility to supply the essentials.

Ensign: Can you give us an example?

Brother Gardner: I’m sounding like a manual, aren’t I? For instance, a job is a basic need—hence, employment services and Deseret Industries. Food is a basic need—hence, bishops’ storehouses and production projects. A basic need for an illegitimate child is an appropriate home—hence, LDS Social Services. Those are needs, not frills. So the Storehouse Resource System provides bishops what they need to care for their needy members.

Ensign: Maybe a manual would help! How does the system work?

Brother Gardner: Thousands of people come to their bishops. The bishops shouldn’t find it necessary to develop a response everytime a need arises. The Storehouse Resource System lets each bishop plug into it for a job referral, or food or clothing, or a referral to LDS Social Services for clinical help or whatever.

Ensign: Where does the name “storehouse” come from?

Brother Gardner: The Lord talks about using the storehouse so that “every man who has need may be amply supplied” in D&C 42:33. Clearly he means that symbolically as well as physically. I won’t take time to review them now, but go and study sections 42, 51, 70, 72, and 83 of the Doctrine and Covenants. [D&C 42, 51, 70, 72, 83]

Ensign: You’ve mentioned six services included in the Storehouse Resource System. [See Richard J. Clarke, Ensign, May 1978, p. 82.] Are there others?

Storehouse Resource System

Storehouse Resource System

Brother Gardner: There can be. I suppose the Lord will direct the Brethren to add to the system as avenues of help from the world become unacceptable. However, the General Welfare Services Committee will determine that, not me.

Ensign: Let us ask about the services you’ve listed. What is the role of Deseret Industries?

Brother Gardner: DI’s the storehouse for non-food commodities—furniture, clothing, etc. It’s also that principle of self-help in action. We encourage people to give to DI so the aged, the handicapped, and others in need of rehabilitation and self-expression can have meaningful work, reconditioning contributed items and selling them. And we encourage people to shop DI; it’s a good place to find low cost, quality merchandise. Others share their talents at DI by teaching skills.

Ensign: You’ve mentioned LDS Social Services a couple of times. What’s the relationship between the bishop and Social Services? Aren’t we supposed to solve all our problems on our own or with the help of our family or bishop?

Brother Gardner: That principle has been stressed a lot lately. (See Boyd K. Packer, “Solving Emotional Problems in the Lord’s Own Way,” Ensign, May 1978, pp. 91–93.) But let me tell you how it works when circumstances swamp your resources. There’s no substitute for the inspired counsel of the bishop. Do you know why he’s ordained as the “common judge” in Israel? Because he can decide every case separately, acting as moved upon by the Holy Ghost. He can send one person home to read the Book of Mormon and send another with the same problem to a counselor. He can heal in unique ways. The Social Services staff is a resource he can use when it matches a need—when someone needs licensed and clinical services consistent with gospel principles and within overall priesthood administration.

Ensign: What services, for instance?

Brother Gardner: Adoptions, foster care, help for unwed parents, and Indian student placement. Those are licensed. Clinical services include consultation between the bishop and the LDS Social Services person, joint evaluation with the individual, and therapy sessions between the individual, and therapy sessions between the individual and a practitioner, although priesthood leaders are involved there as appropriate.

Ensign: So one needs to go through his bishop?

Brother Gardner: That’s the order of the Church. There are a few exceptions: serious emergencies, some unwed parents, some nonmembers. But the bishop authorizes all other assistance and guides it to a conclusion because it is a resource to him. He’s the Lord’s agent. The resource people—whether volunteer or paid—can never take his place, because he has keys to discerning the needs of his ward members that no one else has, and as I understand it they can’t be delegated.

Ensign: Let’s take up a related area—if there’s a disaster—an earthquake, a flood, or something—what can I do from the warmth and safety of my own home?

Brother Gardner: First, what your bishop asks. You may find yourself spending a day with your tractor or shovel digging out basements. But then, on your own you’d do two things: pray for them and add more to your fast offerings (which you should have been gratefully paying all along). I think the Lord means this system when he says he’ll take care of the people “in mine own way.” (D&C 104:16)

One Monday morning a couple of years ago, a lady called me from northern Utah and said: “Brother Gardner, I have in my hand $237 in cash which my Sunday School class raised, and we want to send it down to the Vietnamese refugees in California. I’m so proud of how my class responded to my lesson on brotherly love. Where do we send it?”

I suggested she get a fast offering envelope, put the money in it, and give it to the bishop.

She didn’t like my answer. “Oh, Brother Gardner,” she said, “you don’t understand! We raised this for those Vietnamese!”

I explained to her that we give our surplus to the Lord through his system and then through his system the Lord will see to it that it gets to the right person. I explained that the needy in other geographical areas receive assistance through their own priesthood leaders who can draw on resources from the whole system, if necessary. I pointed out to her that right in her own ward there were sure to be widows or orphans or others who were needing assistance every day. They needed those offerings.

This sister called me back several weeks later and told me that she’d turned the money in to her bishop and had increased her own fast offerings. And she added: “I didn’t know if anybody in our ward is receiving assistance or not, but I’m glad I am doing my part.

And I said, “Isn’t it wonderful that you don’t know! Confidentiality is one of the bishop’s highest priorities.”

Ensign: Many of us relate to that sister. It’s the dramatic cases that make us want to get involved.

Brother Gardner: That’s really natural, but I’m willing to say about ninety percent of our people would be suffering if we only contributed to the dramatic cases. Small tragedies on an individual scale are where the suffering really is. The ministry of the Savior is every day, under every rooftop. How about the heartache of that little teenage daughter who didn’t make the drill team?

Ensign: It might be easy for some to confuse the Church’s welfare plan with government welfare. What are the differences between the two?

Brother Gardner: I believe there are four fundamental differences. First, the giver in the Church welfare system gives voluntarily to the Lord, because he believes the Lord meant it when he said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40) The government’s program, however, taxes you whether you want to give or not. That is one fundamental difference—no coercion.

Second, in the Lord’s system, there is an authorized judge, one who is endowed to determine need. Glen Rudd, who’s operated Welfare Square for years, makes a marvelous point: He asks, “Why do you suppose that a bishop is not just called and set apart? Why is it that the Lord went the further step of ordaining him to an office in the priesthood? Because he has to have a mantle. He has to have those extra gifts explained in Doctrine and Covenants 46 [D&C 46].” The bishop has to make a decision every single time. Most government programs use a leveling, egalitarian approach. Assistance can become a series of averages in which the needs of the individual often become very clouded.

Third, speed. In the Church, once a need is determined, it gets taken care of fast. In government welfare, assistance may be fast but because of the various means tests, getting assistance is often a drawnout process. I’m not criticizing, mind you; this is better than many other alternative approaches. But clearly there is no substitute for a common judge—the bishop.

Fourth, under the Lord’s program the recipient is expected to earn his assistance. While there is no proportionality between what is received and what is done to merit the assistance, all should work or serve for their own sake. In most government programs, there’s no provision for work.

I’d say those are the four major differences. But the two most important are that in the Lord’s system, both the giver and receiver keep dignity and self-respect. Both can be sanctified in the welfare process.

Ensign: What can we expect to see in the future of Welfare Services?

Brother Gardner: That is up to the Brethren and the General Welfare Services Committee. Right now we have our hands full trying to become self-sufficient.

Ensign: What constitutes Church self-sufficiency?

Brother Gardner: By policy, it is intended that the Church will develop a maximum capacity—enough to take care of up to 30% of the membership in cases of broadscale difficulty. That’s with all six facets of the Storehouse Resource System going at full speed, canneries running around the clock, farms producing at maximum capacity, etc. At normal capacity we should be able to take care of about 10% of the membership.

Ensign: But how about the other 70 to 90%? Brother Gardner: The real reserves of the Church don’t lie in the welfare program. They rest with individuals and families, in their gardens, their family storage, their work, their savings, their income-producing skills, their business, etc. The ability to take care of ourselves as a people is really accomplished as we take care of ourselves as families. That’s why personal and family preparedness is so important. The Storehouse Resource System attempts to take care of the needy, not the whole Church.

Ensign: At what level should the Church be self-sufficient? Should a ward have all the elements of the Storehouse System locally? Should a stake or a region?

Brother Gardner: Self-sufficiency will be at the zone or area levels, depending on geographic size and member population. Each zone will be an autonomous unit, producing within its boundaries all of the life-sustaining core products—basic foods such as wheat, milk, fruit, vegetables, eggs, honey, and the like. They will be semiautonomous in what we call intermediate products such as tuna fish, peanut butter, macaroni, fruit juices, and soap. They will be integrated or nonautonomous in a third level of items which we will probably purchase and not produce, such as towels, matches, pins, and needles.

Ensign: Is that why most of the current Church welfare projects are agricultural?

Brother Gardner: That’s it. Nothing is more basic than food—temporally speaking. According to our master plan, each zone must first be able to produce all the core products. Then we can go beyond that level. In some areas, wards and stakes are producing toothpaste, soap, and about forty other nonfood items. But, again, that comes after each zone is self-sufficient in basic foods.

Ensign: How does a zone know that?

Brother Gardner: One of the things we’ve done here at headquarters is to develop a model that local priesthood leaders use in preparing their master plans. Among other things, it tells you how to produce the highest nutrient value for the lowest cost per acre. So, through channels, we take the model to the local leaders and ask them to do the figuring and to come back with their proposed master plan. Then when a stake comes forward with a proposal for a dairy operation, say, we can look at the zone master plan to see if the area really needs more milk production. Suppose the area already has enough dairy capacity, but not enough grain products. The appropriate officers can redirect local leadership to come up with a project that strengthens the whole zone.

Ensign: Is this master plan operating Church-wide?

Brother Gardner: Not yet. When the presiding local leader decides his area’s ready, then the plan’s ready. You don’t have to get all six of the Storehouse Resource System goals operational from the beginning—just when leaders and members understand, need, and are willing to support and use each phase of Welfare Services.

Ensign: Then you don’t necessarily have a bishops’ storehouse in each area?

Brother Gardner: Right now, it isn’t economically possible in each locale. However, when conditions warrant, we have a couple of options.

Some stakes are close enough to storehouses that we can send trucks out to them full of bishops’ orders. The truck delivers them to a central point, and someone picks them up from there and distributes them locally.

Another possibility is to have a mobile storehouse. In the Great Lakes area a forty-foot van—a storehouse on wheels—travels to all the major cities in that area—Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati—stays in each place for one day, and repeats the cycle every two weeks.

For very remote stakes, we are sometimes authorized to convert a classroom in the stake center into a three-month supply, minimum-level bishops’ storehouse for the local wards.

Ensign: What other innovations are coming up for the Storehouse Resource System?

Brother Gardner: Well, we call them “modern applications” instead of “innovations”—but here are a couple. We use computer data processing to some extent for our financial and inventory control systems. Another is our “lamb without blemish” program of quality control. We’re trying to stem the attitude that something inferior is “good enough for welfare.” Third, we’re trying to give our field staff better training on how to efficiently serve ecclesiastical officers. I suppose our primary trust is to do as well as we know.

Ensign: Just why is it so important that we care for the needy?

Brother Gardner: My understanding is that we cannot be saved without our poor. If we do not impart of our substance as becometh Saints according to covenants, we are told we will lift up our eyes in hell and have our part among the nonbelievers. (See D&C 104:18.) In other words, I think we have both opportunities and obligations by covenant to assist the poor and distressed, the downtrodden and the weary. If we withhold our substance and talents, our reward will die with us and the song “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (Hymns, no. 153) will not have application in our next estate.

Ensign: Can you give us some insight into the full potential of the Welfare Services plan? How can we really prepare ourselves?

Brother Gardner: In the few years I’ve been here, thinking fulltime about Welfare Services and working fulltime to implement the programs, I can tell you that I’ve had insights into the scriptures and sweet testimonies from the other side of the veil that have literally made me catch my breath as I’ve caught just the barest scrap of the vision.

Wherever the Lord has created worlds, he’s developed a covenant people and promised them the opportunity to be joint heirs in his kingdom. There have always been some who took him seriously—Enoch and Seth and Melchizedek and Nephi’s people in Third Nephi. We have that same opportunity—the chance to go beyond the primer and develop a full Zion society. Think of it: a social, economic, and political kingdom where the Lord is the lawgiver!

That’s the opportunity before us. Then you look at the reality. Here we are in over fifty countries with all kinds of government—republics, monarchies, socialist states, dictatorships. How do we get from here to that Zion society?

Well, let me suggest that you sit down as a husband and wife and decide how you’re going to implement personal and family preparedness in your own home. Counsel with the Lord about your surplus and make a generous fast offering. Give generously of your time and talents so that the bishop can use you as a resource in helping others. Work on the welfare projects. Give to Deseret Industries and shop there. Volunteer with Social Services. Be a foster parent. Be a good home teacher, a good visiting teacher—and that means really honoring the head of the home, listening to the individuals in that home, and ministering to those needs—not just applying a lesson once in a while.

You can do all of these things, understanding how they’re part of your covenant obligation. You know, so often we look at a list like this and think, “But those are just the ordinary things. I want to do more.” I think if we just did what was in front of us, the Lord would add the next level. We’d be ready.

[photo] Grocery orders can be filled at a bishop’s storehouse.

[photo] Social Services personnel are a resource a bishop can use to help with special needs. (Photography by Marilyn Erd.)

[photo] Work on a stake farm is just a fraction of the total welfare services picture. (Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten.)