The recent Japanese tsunami has brought attention to the fact that in an emergency, it is often difficult to purchase food and water. Because normal deliveries are halted and many stores are closed, people find themselves running short of critical supplies in a crisis.
Mormon beliefs include storing enough food, water, money, and other supplies to be used in emergencies. Many people misunderstand this belief, considering it hoarding or a last-days scenario. However, many people use these supplies during critical times in their lives, such as natural disasters or unemployment.
You might remember that in the Old Testament, Joseph (famous for his coat of many colors) was freed from prison after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream about seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He suggested the Pharaoh needed to prepare for the famine by storing food ahead during the years of plenty and that God had been teaching him this through the dream. God has often taught his people the importance of preparation.
Mormons don’t stockpile the food in the basement and forget about it. They use what they store and rotate it. When grocery day comes around, they shop from their food storage for non-perishables and then replace it when they shop at a regular store. This allows them to cut food costs. Since they have everything they need, they can shop only when items are on sale. They can also purchase in bulk, which helps keep costs lower. If poor weather conditions cause the price of sugar to rise, they can use their stored sugar and not replace it until prices go down again.
Mormons have three types of storage. The first is a 72-hour kit. This portable storage has what they might need to take with them if they have to evacuate suddenly and need to care for themselves for 72 hours. This includes food, hygiene materials, blankets and pillows, scriptures, and other necessities. It can also include entertainment items for children who may get bored quickly in a shelter.
The second type of storage is a three-month supply. This includes everything a person needs to survive for three months. It often includes the most common foods the family eats, cleaning and hygiene materials, pet food, and anything else that would be useful in helping a family spend no money for three months.
The third type of storage is long term. Many staples, such as flour and sugar, will keep for many years if stored properly. This group often contains just what a family needs to survive for a long period of time if no other foods were available. Many families strive to have a full year of food and supplies, which will get most families through long-term unemployment or illness. The basic necessity items might cover another year or so.
Mormons are taught not to go into debt to buy the food or to worry about getting it all at once. It is very easy to pick up an extra few cans each time you shop and to add another bag of flour, sugar, or baking soda to your cart. The cost, for most, is negligible, but it quickly adds up to substantial security during difficult times. I once read of a group of women who were very poor. They were taught to place one spoonful of rice into a jar each time they fixed dinner. Eventually the jar would be filled and they could seal it and save it for times when there was not enough food. The lesson learned was that almost anyone can create a food storage, even if the start was modest.
Where do you stash all this food? Mormons hope to find houses with large garages, basements, or pantries, but of course, many do not. Families in small homes and apartments are amazingly creative at finding places to keep their food storage. A coffee table with a table cloth might be hiding several boxes or might even be made of food storage boxes. More boxes may be tucked under beds and in closets. I once had boxes stacked neatly under the edge of a breakfast bar and knowledgeable Mormons always nodded and said, “Food storage!”
Knowing there is plenty to eat, wear, and clean with brings comfort when we are faced with the stress of unemployment. Being able to fix a nice meal with our favorite foods elevates our mood and reassures us things are okay, even though difficult times might be ahead. A mother whose family is ill can rest assured that no one need stagger to a store because there is plenty of food in the house. When a snowstorm threatens, Mormons don’t have to rush to the store unless they want to—they can survive the days they are snowed in.
Food and commodity storage is only part of the Mormon beliefs about self-sufficiency. Mormons are taught that God expects us to do our share in taking care of ourselves. While we certainly trust God, we all do things that show we don’t expect God to hand us our lives with no effort on our part. We get jobs and work hard to provide for our needs and then trust God to make up the difference once we’ve done all we can do ourselves.
Self-sufficiency includes staying out of debt in order to minimize our expenses in times of need and also to allow us to make the best use of our money on a daily basis. Interest is expensive and provides no real benefit.
Mormons are also taught to get an education in something they enjoy that will allow them to provide for their families. Although women are encouraged to remain home with their children if possible, they are also taught to get an education so they can support their families if the need arises. Being prepared to have a career that allows you to live at a moderate level of comfort is an important part of self-sufficiency.
Gordon B. Hinckley, a past Mormon prophet, was interviewed by Mike Wallace on television. He was asked about the program of self-reliance and answered:
We teach self-reliance as a principle of life, that we ought to provide for ourselves and take care of our own needs. And so we encourage our people to have something, to plan ahead, keep … food on hand, to establish a savings account, if possible, against a rainy day. Catastrophes come to people sometimes when least expected—unemployment, sickness, things of that kind. The individual, as we teach, ought to do for himself all that he can. When he has exhausted his resources, he ought to turn to his family to assist him. When the family can’t do it, the Church takes over. And when the Church takes over, our great desire is to first take care of his immediate needs and then to help him for so long as he needs to be helped, but in that process to assist him in training, in securing employment, in finding some way of getting on his feet again. That’s the whole objective of this great welfare program (“This Thing Was Not Done in a Corner,” Gordon B. Hinckley, October 1996).
About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.