“Bishops’ Storehouse Program Growing Internationally after 75 Years,” Liahona, Jan. 2008, N4–N6
As a 16-year-old boy, Glen L. Rudd took between 800 and 900 pounds (360 to 400 kg) of chicken meat to the Pioneer Stake Bishops’ Storehouse in downtown Salt Lake City for his father.
He watched as the heavy delivery was lifted up on the loading dock of the familiar building. He had heard about what went on inside but had never seen it personally. He knew of the circumstances of many families in his stake; most of his friends’ fathers were unemployed because of the Great Depression.
But on that day he saw what was really happening. “I knew we were helping the poor, the people in need,” recalled Elder Rudd, a former member of the Seventy who spent 25 years managing Welfare Square—the outgrowth of that first storehouse.
As a young man, he realized that during the height of the Depression, when almost 70 percent of the men in his stake didn’t have jobs, the Church was offering help. At the storehouse was a coal and wood yard, a furniture workshop, a cannery and sewing center, and food—much of it donated by people like his father, who owned a poultry processing plant.
August 19, 2007, marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of that storehouse, the Church’s first. Today the Church operates 108 storehouses in the United States and Canada and an additional 29 in Latin America. There are storehouses in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
In addition, the Church runs 285 Employment Resource Centers, 44 Deseret Industries thrift stores, and 100 home storage centers around the world. Church members donated 623,153 days of labor to welfare facilities in 2006, and 239,410 people internationally received training and jobs with the help of Latter-day Saint employment efforts, according to information provided by Welfare Services.
“I have passed this place thousands of times,” said Elder Rudd, speaking of the Church’s first storehouse and its significance. “I have always had great feelings for it. This was the beginning.”
The storehouse began in early 1932, when then-stake president (later 11th President of the Church) Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) and his counselors met with bishops in the Pioneer Stake. “It was decided after a good discussion that they better do something and do it quickly,” Elder Rudd said. “It was decided that they would build a storehouse and learn how to fill it.”
Stake leaders obtained the free use of a building on Pierpont Avenue and volunteers got the facility ready. Members of the Pioneer Stake fasted on the day of the official opening and brought their contributions to the storehouse.
“It was an interesting thing that by the time it was finished, there was enough food and other items contributed to fill the storehouse,” wrote Elder Rudd in a report about the storehouse. “Also, there was a spirit throughout the stake like there had never been before—just plain brotherly love.”
The storehouse, which filled the same function as early tithing offices, operated under the same principles as modern Latter-day Saint storehouses. “Everyone was supposed to work. That was the aim of the Church, to help people help themselves,” Elder Rudd explained.
Elder Rudd said as commodity prices were very low in the 1930s, many farmers were unable to hire any help and most were harvesting what they could and letting the rest spoil. Storehouse officials—including President Lee’s counselor Paul C. Child and storehouse manager, Bishop Jesse M. Drury—assigned Fred J. Heath and other unemployed men to contact the farmers, and many men were sent onto farms along the Wasatch Front and as far away as Idaho to harvest crops that were then shared with the volunteers.
Trucks arrived at the storehouse filled with fruit and other produce. Much of the fruit was canned, Elder Rudd recalled.
He said at one point so many onions (which were donated in abundance) and canned goods were stored in the upper level of the storehouse that the ceiling started to buckle. Props were placed to keep the ceiling from collapsing. Onions were traded for other necessities. The storehouse provided help. No one was ever turned away, he said.
Soon the Salt Lake Stake asked if they could join with the Pioneer Stake storehouse, and four years later they moved the facility to a larger building. Other storehouses were established in the Murray and Liberty Stakes. In addition, employment offices were set up in all six stakes then operating in the Salt Lake Valley.
“[The Pioneer Stake storehouse] became the pattern for all other storehouses,” said Elder Rudd, “including the big storehouses built by the General Welfare Committee in 1938 and 1939, which were located on what has since been known as Welfare Square.”