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Center Stage: Welfare Square's new look

Welfare Square, a major linchpin in the ever-widening wheel of the Church's efforts to help the poor and needy, is getting a face-lift with the addition of new buildings and renovations of existing structures. The latest include the completion of a new dairy and the beginning of construction for a new cannery.

Ever since its beginnings in 1938, when the Church purchased a block of property to build a "welfare center" near downtown Salt Lake City, Welfare Square has been a work in progress. It began with construction of a root cellar and has come to include a bishop's storehouse, cannery (wet and dry pack), milk processing plant, bakery, Deseret Industries store, quality assurance laboratory, employment center, a welfare training center, and a granary, the silos of which are area landmarks.

Located at 751 W. 700 South, it serves as a place to process and package food and to provide clothing and other items to assist the needy. Welfare Square is a powerful tool in the hands of bishops and stake presidents to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (D&C 81:5.)

Today, after 61 years of service, and in response to expanding need in Utah as well as around the world, the building of Welfare Square continues.

The Church has enlarged it from 11.8 acres to 13.5 acres. The expansion was made possible by the acquisition of two parcels of land. One is on the north side of Welfare Square, where a new milk processing plant, Deseret Dairy, was completed recently and will be fully operational in July. The other parcel is on the southeast side of the square where a new cannery will be constructed; completion is planned for next spring. The old milk processing plant and the existing cannery, which are connected, will be razed when the new cannery is built and put into operation. The new cannery, with 22,000 square feet, will better keep up with the demand for canned items such as jams, fruits and applesauce.

Other constructions and renovations that have been done or will soon be completed at Welfare Square include:

  • Remodeling of the Deseret Industries store, including the changing of the customer entrance from the northwest side of the building to the south side.
  • Modifying the granary's receiving truck bays from one on the east and one on the west to a single modified bay on the east, which will allow more efficiency in loading and unloading grain and also permit additional parking areas.
  • Completion of the new Deseret Bakery on the south end of the Bishop's Central Storehouse. The new bakery has been in operation since September 1997.
  • Remodeling space upstairs of the employment center for a training facility.
  • Making minor exterior "cosmetic" improvements to the bishops storehouse and Deseret Industries store to give them the uniform look of Welfare Square.
  • Improving the grounds by landscaping, to include trees and shrubs; paving parking lots in white concrete; and installing new lighting in parking lots to give better luminance at night.

By the end of the project, something will have been done to just about all of Welfare Square. The construction and renovation projects began in 1995.

While these projects bring a new and attractive look to Welfare Square, emphasis has been on efficiency, not elegance, according to Larry Crenshaw, Welfare Services director of welfare administration. "It will be an attractive place yet, at the same time, it will be friendly, warm and welcoming to those who come for help.

Construction of the 50,000-square-foot dairy is indicative of Welfare Services' efforts to keep abreast of changing needs and improving technology. It is the third milk-processing plant built on Welfare Square. The first began operation in 1941, producing canned evaporated milk and bottled grade A pasteurized milk.

The second milk-processing plant was completed in March 1960, processing bottled milk, powdered skim milk, canned condensed milk, butter, cottage cheese and buttermilk. The plant was upgraded twice, in 1970 and 1993. Over the years, cheese processing and powdered milk (including powdered dry chocolate milk) were added to the products.

The new dairy will process the above products, as well as sour cream; also, it will blend the fruit drink mix for the Church's storehouse system and dry pack canneries.

Joe Wirthlin Jr., manager of quality assurance and facilities of Welfare Services, noted that the new dairy — as well as all other parts of Welfare Square — maintains extremely high standards of quality. He said, "Any product that we produce in any of the welfare facilities on the square or outside in the system, meets federal and state regulations so that we're able to do things to further the mission of the Church in this humanitarian level to help the poor and the needy.

"One of the primary reasons we have improved these facilities is to meet the increasing needs of people who hunger not only at home, but throughout the world."

The new structures incorporate new technology to ensure that the Deseret brand, the food produced by the welfare system, is of the highest quality. "We like to call it the finest brand money can't buy," Brother Wirthlin said. Indeed, money cannot buy the food produced by the Church welfare program. Everything produced is available to bishops for distribution to those in need.

Food from the bishop's storehouse system not only helps those around the corner, it also assists in feeding the hungry of the farthest regions of the globe. This spring, thousands of food boxes were shipped to Macedonia and Albania to relieve the suffering of those who were fleeing the danger in Kosovo. Last December, thousands in Nicaragua and Honduras who lost their homes to the ravages of Hurricane Mitch received from Welfare Square welcome, life-sustaining food as well.

Elder Glen L. Rudd, a former member of the Quorum of the Seventy and one of the early managers of Welfare Square explained, "The welfare program has been and continues to be a defense and a refuge from the storms of life."

More than six decades ago, thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints gathered shovels, hammers, and trowels and went to work to erect buildings that would process and package food and clothing that would then be warehoused and distributed to the poor and needy. Construction and renovation work now being done helps ensure that Welfare Square will continue to do so well into the coming century.