Joseph Smith laid out the basic principles of Church aid to the poor (equality, self-reliance, and charity) in revelations he received as early as December 1830, and the basic features of the current welfare system took shape in Salt Lake County during the 1890s.
“Mormon Poor Relief: A Social Welfare Interlude,” Betty L. Barton, BYU Studies, Vol. 18, no. 1
A history of Mormon efforts to take care of poor members from 1850 to 1935. In 1850, Brigham Young made the public works organization permanent; Relief Societies provided help for the poor; and elders quorums helped men find jobs. During the Depression, the Church stressed work as the most important basis for economic security. (22 pages)
“Origin of the Welfare Plan of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Wayne K. Hinton and Leonard J. Arrington, BYU Studies, Vol. 5, no. 2
The authors chronicle the financial aid the Church gave during the 1930s. They compare the amount of Church aid that was distributed with the aid efforts that the federal government was making during the Great Depression through the New Deal. This article stresses how strongly the leaders of the Church felt about people working on projects sponsored by either the WPA or by the Church in order to receive aid. Church leaders wanted members to realize that they could not receive aid freely; they must earn it. Through creating work projects, the Church was able to offer relief to thousands of people. (18 pages)
“Physical Beginnings of the Church Welfare Program,” Paul C. Child, BYU Studies, Vol. 14, no. 3
Here is the personal report of Paul C. Child, a counselor in the stake presidency of the Pioneer Stake, Salt Lake, in the 1930s. In the midst of the Depression, more than half of the men in the stake were unemployed. This stake presidency started what would be the beginnings of the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To try to alleviate problems of unemployment and financial struggles, the presidency set up ward employment programs, Church farms, a storehouse, and a canning factory, all of which became parts of what still continues as the Church welfare program. (4 pages)
“Seventy-Five Years of Living Providently,” Liahona, June 2011
Not long after the Church was established, small bishops’ storehouses and tithing offices were erected to help the needy. Joseph Smith instituted the gathering of fast offerings in Kirtland, Ohio, during the 1830s. The principle of tithing was also introduced during this period (see D&C 119). Tithing and fast offerings were paid in the form of labor, produce, and other commodities. Bishops and branch presidents oversaw the distribution of these resources as they do today.