Storehouse of Faith

For Mormons, being prepared for any emergency is nothing new

The Sacramento Bee/March 1, 2003
By Jennifer Garza

In recent weeks, Homeland Security officials have urged Americans to stock up on supplies such as duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of possible terrorist attacks.

When Jan Hathaway saw the story on the evening news, she chuckled.

"I was watching with my husband, and we just looked at each other and cracked up," says Hathaway, who knows a thing or two about stocking up.

Hathaway is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a requirement of her faith, she's been buying and storing food supplies and other basic necessities for more than 30 years.

Right now, she is standing near two 55-gallon drums of water the family keeps in the back yard of their Orangevale home. Twice a year, her husband, Ralph, dumps the water on the grass and then refills the drums.

The Hathaways are better prepared than anyone from the Department of Homeland Security could have imagined. They keep their water in the backyard drums and canned food in closets. They have bags stuffed with shelled pasta and instant potatoes in the pantry and under the beds. They keep paper products in the garage and sealed buckets of grain and flour in the cove near the laundry room.

If necessary, the Hathaways have enough supplies to sustain their family for a year.

"Just in case," says Jan Hathaway.

The Hathaways practice a doctrine of their faith that tells them to be ready "for the stormy times ahead" -- whether that be war, disaster or personal setbacks.

Perhaps no other religion takes food and emergency preparation more seriously than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leaders regularly sponsor demonstrations on food storage. Children are taught how to prepare 72-hour "emergency kits." Canneries open only to church members operate in several regions of the country -- including Sacramento. There, members may can their own food at no cost.

"We want to be able to sustain our families and not have to rely on government help," says Neil Billman, manager of the Sacramento Cannery and Bishops' Storehouse near Power Inn Road. Billman himselfkeeps a year's supply of food in his garage.

"Mormons do this for personal disasters ... like if you're laid off work or if you get sick," he says. "But also because if there is a war or some other type of tragedy, we'll be as prepared as we possibly can be."

Billman compares this to the story of Joseph in Genesis 41. Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh's dream that there would be famine throughout the land. As a result, "Joseph saved up in great abundance ... until he ceased to measure it." When the famine hit, there was enough food to feed all of Egypt.

The Mormon food program has been in practice for more than 60 years, say church officials. No one knows for sure how many church members participate. "But I would say that those active in the church have some kind of personal supply," says Paul McIntyre, public affairs media assistant for the church in the Sacramento area. Does he know of another group that prepares like the Mormons?

"Squirrels," he replies and laughs.

Newcomers to the program are encouraged to build slowly and to rotate their food regularly so they don't waste it -- "enough to sustain life, not a lifestyle" goes one of the credos of the program. The church runs a Web site,, that tells people how much they should have in supply. An adult, for instance, needs a gallon of water per day.

Much of the food storage program is based on a verse from "The Doctrine and Covenants," a collection of revelations given to the prophet Joseph Smith and accepted as one of the church's scriptures. In this book, church members are told that, in uncertain times, it is "abundantly clear" to be prepared. "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear."

It is a message families like the Mahers have taken to heart.

Joyce and Tim Maher have been storing food for 27 years. In their Orangevale home, they have managed to neatly put away everything from popcorn to pasta. "It's like buying insurance," says Tim Maher, who is an engineer.

Insurance for uncertain times can mean anything. For the Hathaways, those times came when Ralph Hathaway was laid off from his job for several months. Even though all five of their children were living at home at the time, the family was able to live on their supplies.

"I learned that we were wasting way too much food," says Jan Hathaway.

Where to put all that food has been a challenge for many. Some people keep their supplies tucked away throughout their homes. The space behind the entertainment unit or TV is a popular choice. Hathaway knows one woman who put a tablecloth and a lamp on a large drum of wheat and uses it as a table. But by far, the most popular place is the garage.

"You can always spot a Mormon garage," says McIntyre. "It's the one with all the canned goods."

The garage is not exactly an ideal place, says Hathaway, who demonstrates food storage at her church. "The temperature varies too much."

In addition to their personal supply, Mormons are encouraged to contribute to the Bishop's Storehouse. Church members may receive food from the storehouse with permission from their local bishop.

Mormons believe in putting it away for a rainy day. But Hathaway and others are quick to point out that they are not hoarding or stockpiling food. Rather, they are storing enough to sustain them if their circumstances change.

If dire times do come, they are ready and willing to share.

"If my neighbor came to my house because he knew I had food, then, of course, I would share," says Billman. "That is also part of our teachings -- to share what we have."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.