Mormons historically ready

Associated Press/March 28, 2003
By Patty Henetz

Salt Lake City -- Dale and Pat Kimsey started back in the 1970s by storing a few extra cans of food under the bed, just in case.

It's not that the Kimseys felt a threat of war or disaster was imminent. The Mormon couple were simply following their religious teachings.

"It's something that church members are always encouraged to do, not so much in the case of disaster, but just a little bit of personal preparedness," Pat Kimsey said. "Every time the terrorism meter goes up, and they advise people to be prepared, I think, 'Yeah, we've been doing that for 30 years.'"

Over the past two months, the national terror alert status has bounced between yellow and orange, or high, with new threats against the United States and then the war on Iraq.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has suggested that Americans put together disaster kits with a three-day supply of water, food, medicine and -- famously -- duct tape.

Mormons were way ahead of Ridge.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Web site has a comprehensive checklist on basic needs for one year or one month, including food, medical supplies and instructions for storing water and rotating supplies (though there's no mention of duct tape).

The Mormon penchant for planning goes beyond simple common sense. It has theological roots dating to church founder Joseph Smith, and the religion's "law of consecration," which instructs followers to pool their belongings to help the poor. It also stems from the church's turbulent history and the hazards of 19th century frontier life.

"Latter-day Saints like to think of themselves as trying to take care of themselves and be in a position to reach out and help others. If they had supplies, they would likely want to share with neighbors who did not have supplies," said Richard O. Cowan, professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Cowan keeps ample supplies of water, whole wheat and other goods at his home in Provo. "It isn't quite a grocery store," he said. But "my guess is we could probably survive for weeks on what we have."

Less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, church President Gordon B. Hinckley, in a talk at the faith's semiannual general conference, reminded members to plan for the unexpected.

"As we have been continuously counseled for more than 60 years, let us have some food set aside that would sustain us for a time in case of need," said Hinckley, whom many expect to make a similar call at the upcoming conference in April. "But let us not panic nor go to extremes."

The Kimseys already learned that lesson.

"One of the things we did years ago, we had a pallet of freeze-dried food. We asked, 'What would happen if we actually have to live on this stuff?"' Dale Kimsey said.

They opened a container of dried milk and found that it wouldn't dissolve in water; the only way to consume it was to take bites.

"We decided to get the stuff we would normally get," he said.

Robert Egan, who serves as a Mormon stake president in Sandy, said he hasn't noticed any increased preparedness activity recently. But that could be because those in his stake -- a group that encompasses many local congregations -- took extra precautions in advance of the new millennium.

Having a year's supply of necessities on hand isn't just to safeguard against natural or political disasters, he said. "There are a lot of people in this economy who have been out of work recently. Their year's supply may have saved them."

While Dale Kimsey said he doesn't believe Utah is a terror target, he does believe in practicality. "If we are prepared, we don't have anything to worry about. If you're in a position where you can take care of yourself, you're in a much better position to take care of others, too."

The threat of more terror attacks as a result of the Iraqi war is personal for the Kimseys. One of their sons is in the Utah National Guard. And two of their daughters have an apartment in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, where they witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

"They were in this dinky little apartment about the size of a closet. They didn't have anything," Kimsey said. "So my wife went back and helped them buy supplies they could stuff under their beds, too."

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