Social Assistance

The beginning of social care work conducted at a larger scale could be traced back to World War I when assistance was provided to exiles and refugees from Lithuania, devastated by military actions, residing in Russia at that time. On the initiative of the society of Lithuania, a Central Committee for Support to War Victims was established in Russia. The Committee used to establish the so-called exiles committees in the areas occupied by a larger number of Lithuanian exiles. These committees supported and took care of thousands of deeply impoverished people. The Lithuanians of the Small Lithuania (the present Kaliningrad Region), who at the beginning of the war had been exiled to the depths of Russia by the Russian Army which had occupied the areas of the present Klaipėda region and former Eastern Prussia, were not forgotten either. These compatriots were extensively supported and taken care of by the Prussian Lithuanians Care Committee established by the society of Lithuania.

The four-year war ruined many towns and cities of Lithuania, destroyed almost the whole economy of the country, turned vast land plots into wasteland, and exterminated almost all animals. The management of the changing occupational war authorities lead the country to starvation. After the formation of the Soviet Government, there was an extreme shortage of food and a huge level of unemployment. This condition was aggravated even more by thousands of returning exiles and prisoners. Thus social care became one of the sorest points. It was essential to take all possible measures to at least partially eliminate poverty and misery in Lithuania. The state treasury was almost empty at that time. Nevertheless, food products used to be purchased at a fixed price, catering centres used to be established, refectories, sheltered accommodations for children and the elderly used to be established, repatriation of exiles and prisoners as well as public works used to be organised, though all of this was often based on only the promises of the treasury.

The statistical data collected at that time in the whole Lithuania suggests that support and care was provided to approximately 50 thousand residents: widows, orphans, the elderly, the disabled, and other impoverished people. Part of social care work was transferred to local agencies and municipalities after their establishment. The American Catering Mission provided significant support to Lithuania at that time: they sent huge amounts of food products and clothes, laundry, shoes, dry goods, etc., thus saving a large number of children from impending starvation and death. 25,000 children were fed with the food received from the Americans and part of food products and clothes were distributed to the most needy residents via local agencies and municipalities.

With the slow recovery of the country and strengthening of its economy, social care work became more systematised. The society itself started forming various charitable organisations, which consequently established social care institutions. With the strengthening of charitable organisations and expansion of their activities, the State consistently supported the social care institutions it maintained, allocated larger amounts of funds to them, and exercised control so that the funds are used purposefully. This work was expanding and developing every year.

During the post-war periods, social care in Lithuania was managed by the Government via the Ministry of Internal Affairs, local councils, municipalities, and private charitable organisations (including those supported by the State). All those three institutions maintained 57 sheltered accommodations for children with 3,360 children, 174 sheltered accommodations for the elderly with 5,000 old people, 7 nurseries with 650 babies, 102 kindergartens with 3,660 children, and other closed social care institutions. Approximately 15,000 persons were taken care of in all of the mentioned institutions. Apart from that, many poor and otherwise disadvantaged people in need of social care were supported by various forms of benefits and treatment individually. The State and municipalities spent a considerable amount of money on supporting and treating the poor, as well as persons who had contagious and social diseases such as consumption, venereal and mental diseases, etc.

When speaking about social care in Lithuania, it is essential to mention charitable organisations of greater importance which made a considerable contribution to this work by their particular devotion and initiative:

1) A union of organisations caring of Lithuanian mothers and children, uniting 15 charitable societies, supporting 25 so-called health centres, which aimed at protecting children and mothers’ heath and combating child mortality. In Kaunas, this union maintained the Museum of Mother and Child.

2) The Save-the-Babies Society administrated a state nursery-boarding house maintaining 270 children. Later, the children were transferred to other sheltered accommodations. They were mostly adopted or grown in families for a certain payment. The number of such children, which were mostly transferred to farmers’ families, was approximately 550.

3) The St. Vincent and Paul Society, having approximately 150 divisions throughout Lithuania, supported 75 sheltered accommodations for the elderly and children and administrated a state boarding-house for the disabled in Strėvininkai, taking care of 280 disabled people, and a state sheltered accommodation in Čiobiškis, taking care of 150 children.

4) The Lithuanian Women’s Care Committee maintained 2 children’s sheltered accommodations having a secondary school of crafts, and administrated a state children’s sheltered accommodation in Raudondvaris maintaining 280 children.

5) Child Jesus Society maintained 3 children’s sheltered accommodations having 2 schools of crafts, and 5 kindergartens.

6) The Child’s Society maintained a large number of kindergartens and nurseries, which took care of approximately 2300 children as of 1937.

7) Milk Drop Society, combating mothers and infants’ mortality, maintained the stations of milk distribution to infants, day nurseries, etc.

8) The Society for Combat against Tuberculosis, uniting over ten divisions, conducted an active campaign and combated this social disease. It maintained a sanatorium and several out-patient institutions.

9) The Committee for Winter Assistance, having 270 divisions, in 1937 collected approximately LTL 400,000 of donations (cash and things). These donations were provided to families and individual persons in greatest need of assistance during the winter season.

10) People’s Care Society supported and took care of individual impoverished people, provided them with food, clothes, bed, work in the workshops established by the Society, etc.

Apart from these bigger Societies, there were several tens of smaller charitable societies. They were established by the Lithuanians and the representatives of ethnic minorities who provided assistance in conducting the general social care work. 

Last updated: 17-01-2024