Author: Gardner, R. Quinn
The bishop's storehouse system is a network of Church-owned and -operated commodity resource centers that function much like retail stores, with the major difference that goods cannot be purchased but are given to needy individuals whom local LDS bishops judge to be worthy and deserving of Church assistance. Recipients are invited to work or render service in various ways in exchange for goods to avoid allowing the goods given to be a form of dole.
The storehouse stocks basic food and essential household items, produced largely from Church agricultural properties, canneries, and light manufacturing operations. The entire system, where practical, is vertically integrated, from farming and harvesting through processing and distributing. All work is performed by Church volunteers and recipients and is largely independent of the commercial economy. The contribution of time, talents, and resources of the membership of the Church in various areas sustains the storehouse.
The concept of the storehouse and the Church Welfare Services emerged from scriptural principles, elucidated by a series of revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith beginning in 1831, a year after the Church was organized. In one revelation, Church members were directed to "remember the poor, and consecrate [their] properties for [the poor's] support" (D&C 42:30). The goods and money thus contributed were to be "kept in [the Lord's] storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy" under the direction of the local presiding leader, the bishop (verse 34). Bishops were charged to seek donations as well (D&C 104:15-16; Welfare Services Resource Handbook, p. 9).
As defined by Church doctrine, the concept of the bishop's storehouse is founded on the belief that members of the Church should care for themselves and for each other. This is done, first, in families and, second, through the Church. Members are discouraged from seeking assistance from governmental or other social agencies.
The implementation of the mutual help program has varied considerably according to the economic conditions of the members and the organizational structure of the Church. At various times, distribution of goods has occurred through bishops, tithing offices, or bishop's storehouses. Utilization of the storehouse concept received intense emphasis during the United Order effort of the 1870s. From that time forward, most wards maintained their own storehouse until the introduction of regional storehouses (1934-1936). Storehouses figured prominently in the Church's effort to care for its people during the economic depression of the 1930s and formed the basis for a more systematic approach to shared assistance.
After World War II, the Church Welfare system, centered in the storehouse, evolved into an integrated and complex Church-wide production and distribution system. A higher level of coordination between Welfare farms, dairies, and canneries was established, and a wider range of goods became available. The Church established central storehouses to supply regional storehouses. In the 1970s, with the maturing of the storehouse system, the Church selectively introduced local production and storehouses in areas outside the United States where need and resources warranted. The storehouse system is also available for assistance in cases of disaster (see Calamities and Disasters; Emergency Preparedness).
Presently, the entire Bishop's Storehouse Resource System operates with efficiency and quality equal to commercial commodity activities, but maintains its spirit of volunteer service and local administration. While the bishop's storehouse system effectively assists thousands of people every year with material necessities, its additional value lies in the character development and spiritual growth of both givers and receivers.