Most of us contribute to the Church welfare system these days through our fast offerings. A few readers might live in areas that still occasionally produce commodities for the system (my ward, for instance, sends half a dozen people every month or so to slice and wrap bread at the bakery on Welfare Square for distribution through the Bishop’s Storehouse). Many of us are old enough to have worked on church farms or in other stake welfare projects (I never worked there, but the Missouri stake of my high school days produced and packaged gelatin for the Storehouse).
In older times, from the 1930s until so many of the projects were sold in the 1970s and ‘80s, every ward and stake had some active project to contribute to the entire system. Even if your unit wasn’t involved in raising beef or strawberries, sewing aprons or overalls, or manufacturing soap or shoe polish – and sometimes even if it was so engaged – you raised money in whatever ways you could to contribute cash to the system and to capitalize the production of commodities. I’ve seen Church News stories about wards chipping concrete off used bricks, dismantling unwanted buildings, and turning aged orchards into firewood to raise means to care for brothers and sisters in need.
In 1949, the San Antonio, Texas branch was in search of such projects to meet their allotment to the welfare system. Their branch president, Roland C. Bremer, came up with an idea. He was a contractor building subdivisions to meet the insatiable demand for post-war housing for veterans and their burgeoning families – if the brethren of the branch would donate their labor to build one house, he would donate all profit from the sale of that house to the welfare fund.
The branch lost no time. The Saturday morning following this suggestion, the men showed up at the job site and went to work with a will. By 11 a.m. – 11 a.m.! – they had laid the subflooring and raised the frame and had run out of work to do before the skilled laborers had had time to work on the plumbing and wiring. In order to keep them busy, President Bremer assigned them to work on other houses in the subdivision, crediting their hours on those houses as work toward the welfare house.
At noon, the sisters of the Relief Society showed up with a hot meal for the workmen. With all the women and children on-site, the place felt more like a picnic than a work site, and they began to draw attention from other work crews around the subdivision.
The first to notice was a crew of Hispanic workmen doing cement work. They asked what was going on, and when the project was explained and translated, the men – non-Mormons all – looked at each other and decided they wanted to help, too. When their supervisor came back from lunch, the cement workers told him they wanted to donate their own wages for that day to the Mormon project. After they had convinced their astonished supervisor that they were serious, the man agreed, and matched their donation from his own pocket.
When the electricians – non-Mormon – came to wire the house and learned about the special nature of the project, they, too, decided to donate their time. Like the cement contractor, the electrical company owner decided to donate all materials used in the house.
Keeping track of the hours of so many workmen and the unexpected donations of other crews was a larger than usual task. But what was the bookkeeper to do? He kicked in his full salary for the project.
Then sometime during the course of the three weeks of Saturday labor it took to complete the house, the carpentry subcontractor – non-Mormon – who was directing the Mormon work crew endorsed his own check to the project.
Then the salesman – non-Mormon – who had found a buyer (a veteran and his young family) for the house on the first day the priesthood quorums began nailing up the two-by-fours, kicked in his full commission.
Then the branch priesthood members decided they couldn’t accept all the outside contributions without returning the favor, so they extended their efforts by helping to restore the town’s Spanish -American recreation hall which had recently been nearly destroyed by fire.
The goodwill generated and the connections made through the entire project are incalculable, of course. But in the end, the branch contributed some $2,200 (in 1949 dollars – the whole house was sold for $7,300 in those “real” dollars) to the Church welfare system, which would stand as a credit to their branch until its members needed to draw on the system for the support of any of its own.
The address of the priesthood welfare house was recorded as 227 Bradford Avenue, University Park, San Antonio – in case there are any Keepa readers in the neighborhood who want to drive by and tell us whether the house still stands.