Posts Tagged ‘Salt Lake City’

What the Mormons Know About Welfare

March 2, 2012

Mitt Romney has raised the issue of the social safety net. Washington could learn from the lesson of his church.

By NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY

Salt Lake City

Ever since Mitt Romney said he was “not concerned about the very poor” but would fix America’s social safety net “if it needs repair,” conservatives and liberals have been frantically making suggestions. Gov. Romney says he would consider options like restructuring Medicaid. But if he wants to see a welfare system that lets almost no one fall through the cracks while at the same time ensuring that its beneficiaries don’t become lifelong dependents, he could look to his own church.

As I ride in a golf cart through a new 15-acre warehouse on the outskirts of Utah’s capital, I can’t help but wonder: How many Wal-Marts would fit in here? How many burgers can you make from 4,400 industrial pallets of frozen meat? And how do they keep this place cleaner than my kitchen floor?

Dedicated last month, the Bishops Central Storehouse contains a two-year supply of food to support the Mormon church’s welfare system in the U.S. and Canada (primarily for church members in need) and its humanitarian program, which sends food, medical supplies and other necessities to the needy (of all faiths) world-wide.

In addition to goods from canned peaches to emergency generators, the facility also houses the church’s own trucking company, complete with 43 tractors and 98 trailers, as well as a one-year supply of fuel, parts and tires for the vehicles. Just in case.

The storehouse is not only a kind of physical marvel — it has been built to withstand an earthquake with a magnitude as high as 7.5 — but also a symbol of strength and self-sufficiency.

Launched during the Great Depression, the Mormon welfare system was designed by church leaders as a way to match the armies of the unemployed faithful with some of the nearby farms that needed temporary labor. As storehouse manager Richard Humpherys explains, goods and services were traded so that if a father needed food for his family he could get some in exchange for, say, repairing the fence of a widow down the road.

Mormons and U.S. Marines carry aid to landslide victims in central Philippines in 2006.

In 1936, Heber Grant, one of the church leaders, reported the reasoning behind this effort: “Our primary purpose was to set up insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established among our people. The aim of the Church is help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.”

Over the ensuing decades, the church acquired farms and ranches of its own. It built grain silos and dairies and canneries to store and process the food. By the end of World War II, church leaders had enough in the way of reserves that they contacted President Truman to ask if they might assist in feeding and clothing the destitute across Europe. The president readily agreed.

Because it has members on the ground around the world, the church continues to be an important force in bringing food and supplies to the impoverished and victims of natural disasters. Local church leaders contact the central headquarters in Salt Lake City to tell them what is needed — gauze pads, school supplies, wheelchairs — and the church does its best to accommodate.

The Department of Defense recently visited the new storehouse to find out how the Mormons are able to mobilize so quickly, and there is an almost military sense of efficiency and strategy to the church’s efforts. When Hurricane Katrina struck, for instance, the church had positioned its fully loaded trucks in a kind of semicircle from South Carolina to Texas because no one knew how the storm was going to move. The church used reserves of fuel that it has placed around the country, and drivers were able to bring full tanker trucks into New Orleans, powering rescue vehicles and even chain saws to remove tree limbs.

Most of the inventory in the central storehouse, though, goes to supply more than 100 smaller storehouses around the country, plus hundreds of soup kitchens and homeless shelters of other religious communities around North America. Members of the Mormon church who find themselves in difficult circumstances can go to their local bishop and ask for aid.

The bishop then fills out an order allowing them to go and receive food from the local storehouse. Seventy percent of the items on the shelves are produced by the church itself and the remainder are purchased at steep wholesale discounts. According to Rick Foster, who oversees a smaller storehouse in Salt Lake City along with the cannery and dairy at Welfare Square (the original site of all the church’s welfare services), people depend on the food at the storehouse for an average of three to six months

That’s because the church’s goal is to help them get back on their feet as soon as possible. And the storehouse is only one of the tools at the disposal of local bishops, who may also refer members to other church programs, including employment counseling or family services. The bishop may even use money from a fund at his disposal to help pay for education, housing or utilities.

The labor behind the farming, food production, counseling and even cattle ranching is provided almost entirely by volunteers. Some are retired folks who come in every day. Other times an entire ward, or congregation, will come for the day, each of the members standing on an industrial assembly line packaging bread, processing cheese or sealing jars of apple sauce.

Regular tithing by church members helps pay for the facilities, but the primary source of capital support is the Mormons’ monthly fast, as church members are asked to contribute what they would have spent on two meals. Many give much more, says Mr. Foster.

It is safe to assume that Mr. Romney is among them. The tens of millions of dollars he has given the church over the years have raised suspicion in some quarters. What does the church do with all that cash? Wouldn’t that money have been better spent paying a higher income-tax rate? But his donations are supporting the kind of safety net that government can never hope to create. Jesus may have said the poor will always be with you, but he didn’t say Medicaid would.

Ms. Riley, a former Journal editor, writes frequently about religion.

Wall Street Journal article on 2/18/12: What the Mormons Know About Welfare


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Swim in Deep Water – by Mitt Romney

January 4, 2010

Swim in Deep Water by Mitt Romney

I don’t remember when it was exactly that I finally went past the sandbar. My family had a summer cottage on the shores of one of the Great Lakes. For the first forty or so feet, the lake is shallow, warm, and protected from big waves by the sandbar. That’s where I spent most of the hot summer days as a boy. I liked it there.

One day, my brother got me up on water skis. Perhaps fearing that a turn would make me fall, he drove the boat, and me, straight out into the deep. By the way, this lake is over 100 miles wide.  I screamed at him the whole terrifying ride. He took me about a half mile out. But ever after, the deep water was where I wanted to be: surfing in the breakers, water skiing, diving. I got out of the shallow water for good. Over the years, I have watched a good number of people live out their lives in the shallows. In the shallows, life is all about yourself, your job, your money, your house, your rights, your needs, your opinions, your ideas, and your comfort.

In the deeper waters, life is about others: family, friends, faith, community, country, caring, commitment. In the deeper waters, there are challenging ideas, opposing opinions, and uncomfortable battles. Almost every dimension of your life can be held to the shallows or taken into the deeper water. Your career, your involvement with others, your spouse and your children, your politics, each can be lived with you comfortably at the center. Or, they can draw you out of yourself, into service and sacrifice, into selflessness.

At some point in your life, a few of you may be presented with the opportunity to step off your career path, to give yourself fully to some kind of service. When I was asked to leave my investment company to run the Olympics in Salt Lake City, I dismissed the idea out of hand. I was making too much money, I didn’t know bupkes about running a sports event. The job would pay me nothing. The organization was in the worst condition of any I had ever seen. And, after the Games were over, the position would lead nowhere. It was a dead end. I took it. It was the highlight of my professional life. I gave more of myself than I ever had before. I came to know and respect remarkable people.

There are currencies more lasting than money. It can be enormously rewarding to take the unobvious course, to jump into the deep water. Bias is shallow thinking and shallow water. Read widely, particularly from people who disagree with you. Argue to learn rather than to win. If you don’t respect, I mean really respect, the views of people who disagree with you, then you don’t understand them yet.

There are smart people on both sides of almost every important issue. Learn from them all. If you have life all figured out in neat little packages, you’re in Neverland, not the real world. And it’s boring there. There’s one more thing I’ve seen in the people who swim in the deep waters of life. They don’t fashion their values and principles to suit their self-interest; they live instead by enduring principles that are fundamental to society and to successful, great lives.

I learned important lessons about those principles from some of the Olympians I saw in Salt Lake City, like bobsledder Vonetta Flowers. Vonetta was brakeman on USA sled two. All the attention, however, was on sled one, the sled that had taken the World Cup and was a lock for the Olympic Gold. But just before the Olympics, the pilot of sled one dropped her partner and invited Vonetta Flowers to join her. Vonetta had a tough decision. On sled one, she’d get a gold medal for sure; the first Olympic gold to be won by an African American in the Olympic Winter Games. Those of us rooting for US medals hoped she would jump to sled one. She didn’t. She decided that friendship and loyalty to her longtime teammate on sled two was more important than winning the gold. Of course, sled one did well. But when sled two beat them all, coming in first, the crowd went nuts. And tears dripped off Vonetta’s cheeks. Friendship and loyalty above gold.

You live one time only. Don’t spend it in safe, shallow water. Launch out into the deep. Give yourself to your family, to your career, to your community. Open your mind to diverging viewpoints. And live, not by what suits the moment, but by the principles that endure for a lifetime.  Jump in, the water’s fine!


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