Seventy-Five Years of Living Providently

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Although the Church welfare plan was not yet formalized, the early Saints recognized the importance of living a self-reliant life, caring for the poor and needy, and serving others. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”1

Not long after the Church was established, small bishops’ storehouses and tithing offices were erected to help the needy. Joseph Smith instituted the gathering of fast offerings in Kirtland, Ohio, during the 1830s.2 The principle of tithing was also introduced during this period (see D&C 119). Tithing and fast offerings were paid in the form of labor, produce, and other commodities. Bishops and branch presidents oversaw the distribution of these resources as they do today.3

Many of the early Saints struggled to support themselves. To combat idleness, Church leaders and members united to find ways to create sustainable livelihoods. Some found work constructing Church buildings and completing public works projects. Others farmed and sold goods to provide for themselves and their families. As they labored together, the Saints were blessed with enough to meet their needs.

While the challenges of our time are different, Latter-day Saints continue to provide for themselves and care for the poor and needy by following the teachings of the Savior and the example set by previous generations.

Information in this time line comes from the following sources, unless otherwise noted: Susan Clayton Rather, Supporting the Rescue of All That Is Finest (2005); Glen L. Rudd, Key Moments in Church Welfare Services (2008); Glen L. Rudd, Important Events for Historical Church Welfare (1999); Glen L. Rudd, A Brief History of the Church Employment Program (1998); Glen L. Rudd, Pure Religion (1995).


  • April 6: President Heber J. Grant and his counselors announce the Church security plan in general conference.

  • October: The Church forms the General Welfare Committee.


  • The Church establishes the first Bishops’ Central Storehouse, in Salt Lake City.


  • Welfare Square property is purchased in Salt Lake City, and construction begins.

  • April: Church security plan is renamed Church welfare plan.

  • August 12: The Church opens its first Deseret Industries thrift store, in Salt Lake City.


  • The first storehouse and cannery at Welfare Square begin operation.


  • August 27: President David O. McKay dedicates the Welfare Square grain elevator. Church members donated over 70,000 hours of labor to build it.


  • April 20: Original Welfare Square milk-processing plant begins operation.


  • March 1: The Church opens a regional employment office in Salt Lake City.


  • March: New Welfare Square milk-processing plant is completed.


  • Pasta manufacturing plant and new Welfare Square cannery begin operation.


  • The Church creates LDS Social Services to help families.


  • Welfare facilities are expanded throughout the United States and Canada.

  • March 29: New Welfare Square bishops’ storehouse is completed.


  • The Church forms the Emergency Response Committee to help millions of people around the world affected by disasters.


  • First employment centers outside the United States are established, in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.


  • The Church builds a Deseret Industries thrift store at Welfare Square.


  • September 10: U.S. president Ronald Reagan visits welfare facilities in Ogden, Utah.



  • Church Humanitarian Services program begins.


  • The Church uses its Humanitarian Service Center to sort surplus clothing and other goods for shipment throughout the world in response to poverty and disasters.


  • The Church establishes Latter-day Saint Charities as a nongovernmental organization to facilitate humanitarian activities in select countries.4

  • Welfare Services builds its first bishops’ storehouses and home storage centers outside the United States, in Mexico.

  • Renovation of Welfare Square begins.


  • LDS Social Services makes a record number of adoption placements in one year with 629—the highest number the agency achieved in the 20th century.5


  • March: Welfare Services begins a major employment initiative to establish up to 50 new employment resource centers throughout the world.

  • LDS Social Services is renamed LDS Family Services, and programs are expanded.


  • A new career workshop is introduced at employment resource centers. Self-employment workshop materials are introduced a year later.

  • September 5: Following the completion of the renovation of Welfare Square, a rededication ceremony is held.


  • January 25: The Provident Living website is launched,

  • A major proposal is approved to increase the number of bishops’ storehouses throughout the world.

  • The Church begins four major humanitarian initiatives: neonatal resuscitation training, clean water, wheelchair distribution, and vision treatment.



  • April: A new employment website is launched,, currently available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

  • Food production is added to humanitarian initiatives.

Left, top: Dutch Saints harvest and load potatoes for German Saints in 1947. Above: Food-production training in Ecuador has helped members grow more productive gardens.

The Saints in California’s Central Valley provide the labor for a Church-owned vineyard in Madera, California, USA. The vineyard produces hundreds of tons of raisins to be used by the poor throughout the world.

Above, from left: photographs by Cornelius Zappey, courtesy of Church History Archives; Howard Collett; and Peter Evans

Show References


  1.   1.

    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 330–31.

  2.   2.

    See Howard W. Hunter, “Fast Day,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 72.

  3.   3.

    See Glen L. Rudd, Pure Religion (1995), 2, 4.

  4.   4.

    See “Humanitarian Activities Worldwide,”,11666,4600-1-2323-1,00.html.

  5.   5.

    See C. Ross Clement, “LDS Family Services” (unpublished history prepared for LDS Family Services, May 10, 2000).

  6.   6.

    See Kimberly Bowen, “LDS Family Services Launches New Web Site,” Ensign, Sept. 2009, 78.