Each time President Thomas S. Monson watched the news or picked up a newspaper and learned of terrible human suffering as a result of tornadoes, floods, fires, drought, hurricanes, earthquakes or conflicts of war, he asked a moving question: “Do we have a responsibility to do something about such suffering?”
The answer, he said during a Church News interview in 2010, is always the same: “Yes! We are our brother’s keeper.”
For President Monson, the desire to reach out to the less fortunate started at his childhood home with a courageous mother and a fence picket she wouldn’t let him repaint.
“We lived a block from the railroad tracks,” he recalled during the Church News interview. “When the trains would go by, the pictures on the wall would move.”
During the 1930s, in the height of the Great Depression, hobos would ride the rails and look around the Monsons’ west Salt Lake City neighborhood for food.
“I often wondered why Mother had me not paint one of the pickets in the fence. I learned later that word got around: ‘You will get fed at the house that has a fence picket with a mark on it.’ ”
President Monson’s mother invited each of those transient men into her home, had them wash up, fed them and sent them on their way with more food for later. Before they left, however, they had to endure her lecture.
“She would find out where they were from. ‘Have you written your mother?’ she would ask. ‘Does she know where you are? She is probably very concerned. Why don’t you write her a letter?’ ”
President Monson saw the men wash and dry with the same towel the family used. They ate the same food, at the same table, on the same plates as the rest of the family.
“That had an effect on me,” he said.
President Monson said the problem with giving humanitarian aid worldwide can be summarized in a simple quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh in her book Gift from the Sea: “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.”
As a young bishop, President Monson visited each of the widows in his ward and took each a roasting chicken — some that he had raised himself. As a bishop he created a welfare project for the ward, remodeling a chicken coop and purchasing 30 laying hens.
He became known for his heart that so often reached out to the one. “I always considered myself as a bishop who erred on the side of generosity; and if I had it to do again, I would be even more generous” (Heidi S. Swinton, To The Rescue, p. 150).
President Monson would serve as the first vice chair of the Church’s Welfare Executive Committee, formed in 1973 (To the Rescue, p. 406). In 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan appointed then-Elder Monson to his task force on Private Sector Initiatives; for more than a year he traveled to Washington, D.C., to address the notion of “neighbor helping neighbor” (To the Rescue, p. 408).
President Monson said once you start to help those who are suffering, there is no way to stop. “You find the need of the world is far greater than you ever imagined. One disaster strikes and almost before you can complete that work, another disaster strikes.”
The key, he said during the 2010 Church News interview, is to never walk away from suffering.
“Starvation is starvation. Human beings dying are human beings dying. I have seen enough to convince me where there is want and where there is suffering I would like to be there to lend a helping hand.”
Following is Church aid rendered during President Thomas S. Monson’s service as a Church leader:
Since 1985, LDS Charities has provided $1.89 billion in assistance in 189 countries.
LDS Charities has provided emergency response in 173 countries since 1985.
The Benson Food Initiative has served 30 countries since 2006.
LDS Charities has provided vision care in 72 countries since 2003.
Maternal and newborn care has been provided in 88 countries since 2003.
LDS Charities has provided clean water and sanitation in 75 countries since 2002.
Since 2003, LDS Charities has worked to provide immunizations in 52 countries.
LDS Charities has worked to distribute wheelchairs in 133 countries since 2001.
Refugee response has been provided in 107 countries since 1985.
LDS Charities worked in 147 countries on 2,630 projects with more than 1,500 partners to serve millions of people in 2016 alone.
(Source: LDS Charities 2016 annual report)