Welfare Square is the largest site of manufacturing for the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The beginnings of Welfare Square were established in 1938 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The first facilities consisted of a bishop’s storehouse, a root cellar, and a cannery.
Since Welfare Square’s beginnings in the 1930s, the facilities have expanded to include a milk-processing plant, a Deseret Industries plant and affiliated store, a bakery, and offices for the Social Services Department and an employment center. Welfare Square now also offers transient services to help the homeless, irrespective of their religious affiliation. The services and facilities operated on Welfare Square are funded mainly through fast offerings donated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ and operated by volunteers.
The comprehensive welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ which was crucial in the decades after its inception (the 1930s and 1940s) and, in the economic recession of the 2000s, has seen another increase in need. The welfare program has three objectives: to care for the poor and needy, to enable self-reliance, and to provide service opportunities. A visitors’ center is currently on-site at Welfare Square to help people become familiar with the programs and services provided and to provide information on the church’s welfare programs in general.
The services at Welfare Square, especially the bishops’ storehouses, provide necessities like food and basic household supplies to families in need. The recipients of this assistance must contact their bishop (the Latter-day Saint local ecclesiastical leader) or Relief Society president (local leaders of the church’s women’s organization) and go to the storehouse with a food order containing specific requests for supplies. Volunteers collect the food to fill the order, and the recipients then provide their own volunteer service to the site, often helping in the production and cannery areas. The Church of Jesus Christ is focused on not giving free hand-outs but rather on helping the needy while teaching and enabling self-reliance. Welfare is expected to be temporary for the recipient.
Deseret Industries was established as a place where church members can learn to help themselves. The organization provides employment services and also operates a large chain of thrift stores throughout the western United States. The employment services provided by Deseret Industries focus primarily on helping individuals adjust to the overall work experience, like showing up for work every day, working under a supervisor, arriving to work on time, and functioning well with co-workers. Often bishops and Relief Society presidents will refer church members to the Deseret Industries services. Deseret Industries is a major employer of elderly and handicapped workers, giving them work where they might not otherwise find any.
"Fast offerings" in The Church of Jesus Christ are donated by members who, at least one Sunday a month, fast for two consecutive meals and then donate at least the cost of those meals to the welfare program. Often those donations are used to serve the economic needs of other ward members, and surplus donations are sent to Salt Lake City to help fund other welfare endeavors like Welfare Square and its facilities.
The volunteers at Welfare Square are provided by local wards and stakes (a regional collection of wards, or local congregations). Volunteer support is planned a year ahead of time so that local members can know how their time will be needed and when to participate. Volunteers need no prior training and participate primarily in packaging food for storehouses. Hundreds of thousands of days of labor are donated by volunteers every year.