There is more to preparing for an emergency than storing food, clothing and other materials. In a "First Presidency Message" in April 1981, President Marion G. Romney, then second counselor in the First Presidency, wrote:
"Someone proposed a serious question to me a few years ago by asking, 'What is the most important item to have stored in your year's supply?' My response was seriously given -- personal righteousness. It is important for us to have, as we have been counseled, a year's supply of food and clothing and, where possible, fuel. We have also been counseled that we should have a reserve of cash to meet emergencies and to carry adequate health, home and life insurance. Personal and family preparedness, however, is much broader than these tangibles. It must include proper attitudes, a willingness to forego luxuries, prayerful consideration of all major purchases, and learning to live within our means." (Ensign, April 7, 1981, p. 6.)"Church teachings regarding personal and family preparedness do not stem from any specific event, including Y2K concerns," states a recent news release issued by the Church Public Affairs Department. "Predictions of disaster, famine, flood, and earthquake have come and gone and will continue to do so, but the common-sense admonitions of Church leaders to prepare for times of adversity and to be self-reliant remain unchanged. The words of Brigham Young, 'Learn to sustain yourselves, lay up grain and flour, and save it for a day of scarcity,' are as applicable today as they were more than 130 years ago." (Please see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 291.)
In 1937, President J. Reuben Clark Jr. counseled Church members: "Live within your means. Get out of debt. Keep out of debt. Lay by for a rainy day which has always come and will come again. Practice and increase your habits of thrift, industry, economy, frugality." (Conference Report, October 1937, p. 107.)
More recently, during the priesthood session of the October 1998 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley said "the time has come to get our houses in order" as he counseled members about living within their incomes. "The economy is a fragile thing," he said. "A stumble in the economy in Jakarta or Moscow can immediately affect the entire world. It can eventually reach down to each of us as individuals. There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed."
President Hinckley said he was troubled by the huge consumer installment debt that "hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people." He said that it may be necessary to borrow to purchase a home, but he counseled members to buy homes they can afford.
"I urge you brethren to look to the condition of your finances," he counseled. "I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.
"This is part of the temporal gospel in which we believe. May the Lord bless you . . . to set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts."
Personal and family preparedness go a long way in bringing a sense of peace, according to Larry Howick, president of the Lilburn Georgia Stake. Pres. Howick serves as agent stake president for the dry-pack family cannery at the Church's cannery in Tucker, Ga.
"There are countless stories of members who have had to get into their food storage more for an economic reason -- they've lost jobs or they've had illnesses -- rather than for calamities," Pres. Howick said.
"And we've had our share of weather-related emergencies in the South. We've had many floods, tornadoes and hurricanes in the past few years. Numerous families would have had great difficulties were it not for their food storage. More important is that those who have had storage have shared with those who didn't have it or whose supply was lost."
Sid Hancock, manager of the Bishops Central Storehouse in Tucker, said, "When you start talking about storage for emergencies, people tend to believe you're talking about preparing for a big disaster a hurricane, a tornado, a flood, or an earthquake. But when trouble strikes a family, that's an earthquake. When there's a loss of a job or high medical expenses, the family is caught in its own earthquake. Storage items can tide a family through its emergencies and help meet unexpected expenses."
John M. Carson of the Irvington Ward, Portland Oregon East Stake, is one who saw first-hand the value of personal and family preparedness. "Six years ago when I became unemployable with a chronic illness, I was glad I was prepared by following the teachings of the prophets," he said.
With both food storage and cash to last a year, he had time "to prayerfully determine what I could do. Even though many friends suggested that I go on disability, I determined that the spirit of the gospel was that I should at least try to be self-reliant. I determined I could do light yard work and handyman work for the neighbors, and a few hours of work per day between naps would cover my expenses when supplemented by dividends from some investments. With just a few more years until I'm eligible for Social Security, I have determined that I can make that goal without going into debt or being dependent on anyone else."
Jan Christensen of the Chubbuck 7th Ward, Chubbuck Idaho Stake, is a stay-at-home mother whose husband, Jeff, has changed jobs several times. "The first few times were extremely trying on our finances," she said. "We have had to borrow money from family and, at one time, asked for Church assistance from our bishop. From these experiences I have learned the importance of storage, not only food but toiletries, cleaning items and supplies for babies as well.
"Having these things sometimes is not enough but knowing how to creatively cook with your food storage is a must. I now rotate storage by using the items in my storage. Having to live almost exclusively on our storage twice, I have become quite the 'from-scratch cook.' I add at least one large amount of something each month, such as a 50-pound bag of wheat."
Part of the Christensens' preparedness efforts include reducing debt. "We do not have even one credit card," she said. "We pay for our doctor visits promptly. We try paying a little extra on our car and mortgage payments each month so they will be paid off early. When I want something new, like a sofa, I ask myself, 'Can we pay cash for this?' If the answer is 'No,' then I have to decide if I really need it."
For many members, harsh winter weather has reinforced the wisdom of heeding counsel to be prepared for emergencies. For example, temperatures plummeted this past winter to around 20 degrees F below zero in northwestern Indiana, where many residences were without power from 48 hours to a week.
"There were things that we learned from that," said Robert DuPriest, first counselor in the Chicago Heights Illinois Stake, who resides in Valparaiso, Ind., and is a member of the Hebron Ward. He is the counselor in the stake presidency who has been given responsibility to oversee personal and family preparedness efforts in the stake.
Pres. DuPriest said, "We were in a situation where food was available at the stores for a few days, if you could get to the stores. We had the largest snowfall in recorded history: 22 inches in 24 hours. After just three days, most shelves in grocery stores were bare.
"Even before stores ran out of items, many couldn't even get to the stores. I have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle so I went to a store for some neighbors. The employees couldn't get home; they were sleeping in the store."
When the storm hit, stake leaders were in the process of implementing an emergency preparedness plan among members. "We had just put together an inventory of all our members relative to blood type and the kind of equipment they have available, such as generators, 4-wheel-drive vehicles, boats, axes and other tools. We have a response plan. We can dispatch members to various locations of need once we're aware of the situation by checking the inventory list. We rely on home teachers to notify bishops and bishops notify the stake presidency so we can deploy those resources.
"We got through the storm fine. We had members hauling generators from house to house as they were needed. Members with 4-wheel-drive vehicles went shopping for people in need. We don't know of anyone who suffered more than inconvenience. That was a good drill for the kind of preparation we need to have."
Pres. DuPriest said that a common thread of goals concerning preparedness is to have all families in the stake be self-reliant. "Part of self-reliance is to have storage and to have funds set aside so if some unforeseen thing happens, such as unemployment, they can take care of themselves.
"We are fortunate in that we can talk about the kinds of harsh winters we have here and give examples of what happens in that kind of situation. We talk about examples of families who have been doing well, from outward appearances. But if the head of the household becomes unemployed, sometimes it takes a while to be employed again, especially if the individual was working in a middle or upper management position. If a family isn't prepared, they might be living from hand to mouth, day to day.
"We're a minority in the community," Pres. DuPriest said. "We want to be able to help not only our immediate families but also to be prepared so we can really reach out and help our neighbors. When we have a snowstorm, one of the first things we do is call our neighbors and ask if there is anything we can do to help them, if they need anything. They're grateful.
"We're trying to have that kind of attitude prevail within the membership of the Church. Some take the counsel and run with it; some don't. The more who do, the better the habit forms, the better they are prepared."