By Atticus Agustin
Photos by Atticus Agustin
Workers inside a warehouse are busy forklifting slabs of clothes and then using other machines to turn them into perfect, gigantic blocks. The blocks are labeled for men, women, or children. Everyone else sorts according to size and style. Thuds, beeps, sirens, and chatter are part of the soundtrack inside the warehouse.
Meanwhile, upstairs, volunteers participate in a quilt-making group. These clothing items and quilts will be distributed throughout the globe.
All of this work is occuring at the LDS Humanitarian Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the west side of Salt Lake City. This facility, located at 1665 Bennett Road, was established in 1991 to provide temporary employment and teach job skills to new Americans who are learning to become self-sufficient, whether they are LDS adherents or not.
Self-sufficiency training at the Humanitarian Center is 18 months long, and includes English lessons provided by a nonprofit partner, the English Skills Learning Center. The ultimate goal is to help individuals in securing long-term employment, but most importantly to help individuals help themselves. The importance of attendance, punctuality, good hygiene practices, and other basic life skills are taught. Many of the individuals helped are west Salt Lake City residents.
Internationally, the humanitarian services provided include neonatal training, vision help, clean water, better food production practices in developing countries. Other humanitarian supplies include hygiene products, school kits, and emergency medical models.
President Donald Trump, like many other U.S. presidents, have made stops at properties and facilities of the church. Last December, he saluted the humanitarian efforts of the church, saying, “The job you’ve done is beyond anything you could think of – taking care of people the way you take care of people and the respect that you have all over the world.”
Both facilities are part of the entire welfare and humanitarian efforts of the LDS Church. Welfare Square originated during the Great Depression. The facility, located at 780 West 800 South, is well-known for its 178-foot grain silo landmark. Fruit orchards, a cannery, a milk-processing operation section, a thrift store, The Bishops’ Storehouse, and an employment center all operate under Welfare Square. All of this to provide assistance to the needy. The church operates its farms throughout the nation, and surplus food is given to local food banks.
The silo has some impressive statistics. According to a 2001 Deseret News article the silo was the biggest concrete project to be undertaken in the state when it was built in 1940. The project took 15,000 bags of cement, 12,000 pounds of reinforced steel, 640 men and boys working 70,151 hours of labor. Today 2,500 loaves of bread are baked daily and the silo elevator can also hold 318,000 bushels of wheat.
To obtain assistance, each recipient meets with a Welfare Square representative who assigns them tasks in exchange for supplies, whether it be stocking, cleaning or painting. The center also stocks tons of assembled furniture with the objective of aiding people in an emergency and catastrophic situation that can range from natural disasters to political upheavals.
Although Welfare Square primarily aids LDS members, no one is turned down for food assistance as long as they opt for a quick interview and agree that they will perform work in the plant. Overall, the church’s entire welfare and humanitarian program emphasizes helping others to help themselves, to teach people the value of work.
To learn more, you can view this PBS video news story from 2016: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2016/06/24/mormon-welfare-program/31091/