The following first appeared in Public Square Magazine.

I don’t know what we thought we were going to do with duct tape and plastic sheeting, but in December 1999 in preparation for the much anticipated Y2K blackouts, that’s what many of us bought. It’s funny to think about it now, and there is certainly a little humor about the run on toilet paper at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic. However, situations like this expose some not-so-funny concerns as well. For instance, we’ve learned that when faced with an emergency situation, people panic-buy. 

For many raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the frequent topic of one-year food supplies and emergency preparedness might well have prepared us for moments like this. We have been warned and admonished repeatedly by prophets for decades to prepare our food storage and emergency kits. But without pressing evidence that these efforts will ever be needed, the message too easily got set aside. 

After all, many of us observed our parents faithfully stock basements full of wheat that rarely, if ever, was needed. So maybe it’s understandable if we shrug our shoulders, and conclude it was never as important as we had thought all along.  And furthermore, the culture of “prepping” has today been cartoonishly portrayed as something like trading a house in the suburbs for a rural homestead, ditching designer jeans for a prairie dress, and finding creative ways to store big white food storage buckets as part of our decor. Some have even insisted self-reliance is not a gospel principle taught anywhere in the scriptures—portraying it instead as a relic of the “prosperity gospel” or an excuse to simply hoard wealth and resources.

No wonder we lay so much of this aside.  If worry ever does creep in, thoughts like, “the Church has massive storehouses,” or “my prepper family has it covered,” can quickly quiet them. 

It’s true that we haven’t heard about temporal preparation from the pulpit as often as in the past. Acknowledging this, Elder David Bednar, in a worldwide message to our faith said, “Church members opine that emergency plans and supplies, food storage, and 72-hour kits must not be important anymore because the Brethren have not spoken recently and extensively about these and related topics.” But then he added, “repeated admonitions to prepare have been proclaimed by leaders of the Church for decades. The consistency of prophetic counsel over time creates a powerful concert of clarity and a warning volume far louder than solo performances can ever produce.” 

In addition to prophetic counsel, the realities of society today have begun to abundantly demonstrate that concern about famines and pestilence are not just for some other place or some other time. We see how alarming events rapidly created a baby formula shortage— including war, inflation, and weather—with predictions of more shortages to come. Respected JP Morgan CEO, Jamie Dimon said recently, “You know, I said there’s storm clouds but I’m going to change it … it’s a hurricane. … You’d better brace yourself.” Some say that global famine could be significant as early as this fall. With rising costs and even President Biden himself speaking of war-related food shortages “It’s going to be real,” demands for more serious attention have converged. As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve stunningly and lovingly been told by our prophet “time is running out.” 

It’s especially noteworthy to consider that panic and fear are almost never how prophets of God speak of preparedness. Rather, words like providenceself-reliance, and blessings are more commonly used. God’s house is a house of order, and we are invited to create our own home based on the same transcendent principles.

Providence, Self-Reliance, and Blessings

If the shortage realities turn out to be not as substantial as current projections, our preparation efforts would not be a waste. There are timeless lessons we can gain in the process.  One mother noted, “The farther we have gotten away from learning about life through natural practices of survival, like growing our own food and raising animals as the generations before us did, we grow disconnected from understanding truths about life and the important spiritual components that accompany that.”

Preparing soil, planting seeds, watering, weeding, tending, and harvesting are all important skills that, while growing a family, can help grow testimonies of the gospel and provide an array of valuable lessons. The lessons can be gained with even a tiny patch of land, or planters filled with herbs. For most of us, this is simply not a natural skill, but even in the practice, failing, and trying again, are to be found important life lessons.

Another mother observed a lesson through preparation. “I admire Joseph of Egypt’s faithful orchestration of storing excess food for seven years, positioning his community for vitality in a potential famine and the ability to relieve others. Indeed, Joseph’s routine preparation and trust in God’s inspiration led to eventually reuniting with and joyfully blessing his family. His efforts reflect the way that ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’” 

Another noted, “The law of the harvest is an eternal principle and our efforts to learn will never be wasted, citing a restoration scripture that declares, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life … he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” 

Practical Steps for Starting

There is a lot of advice and information about preparation available through many sources. That also means getting started can feel incredibly overwhelming. For those looking for simple ways to make progress, we summarize below five basic steps that are a good place to start:  

1. Begin with sincere prayer. What if what you need in terms of preparation is different from other families? Fortunately, you can receive specific help from someone with the ability to guide you right. God wants you to succeed; He knows your needs. He wants to help. As President Russell Nelson has assured, “Because when we seek to hear—truly hear—His Son, He will guide us to know what to do in any circumstance.” 

Don’t second guess your intuitions. Make this a matter of daily prayer, and don’t ignore promptings. We are promised, as President Nelson continues, “He communicates quietly and with such stunning plainness that we cannot misunderstand Him.” He will not overwhelm you; He will help you do this one box of cereal or one bag of wheat at a time.

2. Take inventory of what you already have. You might have more than you realize already on hand. Make a list of what’s already there and available. What’s in your cupboards also indicates what you naturally use and is a helpful guide for at least your regular, short-term storage.

3. Build up short-term storage. To begin building your short-term storage, create a menu of meals for one week. (Aim for two meals/day in this menu schedule, because we don’t eat the same in crisis). Then, using your menu schedule, create a list of ingredients needed to make all of the meals on the schedule. Multiply that ingredient list so you would have enough for 2-3 weeks of short-term storage on hand. (That won’t likely be enough for a case of job loss, illness, or natural disasters so you might want to consider something closer to 3 months eventually, but 2-3 weeks is a great start). Now, you can subtract your current inventory from this menu schedule, and you have your short-term shopping list. 

While this can feel daunting as grocery prices are stretching budgets, keep your aim on doable steps. For instance, every time you go to the store (even if it’s just for milk and diapers), get 1 (or a few) extra items from that list—especially if they are on sale. Of course, don’t feel like you have to buy something because it’s on sale. If it ends up sitting in your cupboard unused, it really doesn’t matter how great the price was. Remember, you’re not buying a year’s worth of this type of food—just do your best to fill in the holes and build up a couple of weeks’ worth of this short-term pantry food.

4. Create some emergency kits. As you work on your pantry storage, simultaneously be thinking of a “72 hours kit” of essential food, water, medicine, energy, clothing, and activities. Think of this as something you can transport. Pretend you’re going camping—what would you need for a long weekend? Pull it all together, set it in a corner in a box, or pack it in individual backpacks (maybe get some from D.I. or a local goodwill) and hang them on your garage wall.

5. Working towards long-term storage: Your cupboards and freezer are probably getting full with your short-term food. That’s why we need to think of foods that are “shelf-stable” (not perishable) beyond that time frame. It would be ideal to have a year’s worth of long-term, shelf-stable food here in the United States. Some items might not seem like food you would ever use. But remember, something like a bag of wheat is more than unground flour. Wheat can be sprouted for fresh greens, and gluten provides protein. Cracked wheat is fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and what’s left can be ground into flour, making crackers, bagels, pancakes, and bread filling hungry tummies. 

For this longer-term storage, consider sticking with the basics from the Church of Jesus Christ’s suggested food-storage list—which highlight seven specific items of life-sustaining ingredients

If this feels overwhelming to do for your entire family all at once, think about building up one year of supplies for one person at a time. Once a single person is completed, then add a second, third, and however many you need for your household. If you have a family of five (some being children), a complete full-year two-person supply will feed the five of you for almost six months. Recognize that it’s not as expensive to buy and store basic ingredients as it is to purchase and keep prepared food. In fact, the cost for a month or two of your regular groceries is about what it will cost for one person for an entire year’s worth of basics (using the 7-item list). Using the prices available through the Church’s Home Storage Center (updated Jan 1, 2022), the cost for one adult person’s food supply for one year is $812.42. (Inflation and availability might mean this looks different where you are, but this is an average to work with.)

Fishes and loaves. You will not get to the end of step five overnight. As you apply efforts and listen to your deepest spiritual intuitions, you will be inspired for your family’s specific needs. You will see miracles and tender mercies as others have. We have seen throughout sacred history that God can turn five loaves of bread into enough food for thousands, and provide daily manna for an entire people. The Lord loves effort and as you make your best attempt to get started, you will learn for yourself how much your efforts do matter; they open the windows of heaven. 

Just get started. With gradual steps. Small and simple. The blessings and cumulative effect might just mean you have all the toilet paper and duct tape you will need for whatever emergency lies ahead.