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SALT LAKE CITY -- Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marked a major milestone in the faith this weekend -- the 75th anniversary of the welfare program.
The program is open to members and nonmembers alike and is designed to foster self-reliance even as it provides food, clothing or other support. Assistance comes with the expectation of reciprocal service to the church and its programs.
In Utah, the program is anchored by Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. The facility includes a cannery, milk and cheese processing facility; a landmark 16-million pound grain elevator that can been seen for miles; and a bakery, storehouse, thrift store and employment center, all of which are run mostly by volunteers serving church missions.
Cattle on the Cleveland ranch -- along with ranches and farms across the world -- supply the meat to feed the poor. Church facilities process commodities like peanut butter, honey, jam and salsa.
"I declare, that the Welfare Program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is inspired of Almighty God," said church President Thomas S. Monson.
Created to help those who lost jobs, farms and homes during the "Great Depression" -- today it remains to offer aid during difficult times.
"We also sponsor humanitarian relief and developmental projects around the world to help those in need, regardless of their faith," President Monson said.
Help reaches people now in 178 countries.
"One of the great things is knowing that somewhere in this world, we're assisting someone that we will never see," said Elder Glen Cox, a program supervisor, during general conference in October of 2006.
Church leaders say the success of the welfare program is based on the principle of helping people to help themselves. Funds to operate the program come from church members. Every month they fast and donate the money they would have used to feed themselves.
"Everyone is happier and feels more self-respect when they can provide for themselves and their family and then reach out to take care of others," said President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency of the church.
The funds pay for commodities, clothing, job training and other services made available to the needy. The church also works in partnership with other faith traditions and service agencies to share surplus goods.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary, church members throughout the world will participate in a "Day of Service" to do what they can to help someone in need.
The Deseret News will have a series of stories on the church's welfare program beginning Monday morning.
Story written by Carole Mikita with contributions from The Associated Press..