Mormons have always taken pride in being as self-reliant as possible. Their challenging pioneer heritage showed them the value of being prepared for anything. This self-reliance does not take an extremist form and is generally considered to be a way to prepare for unemployment, illness, or weather emergencies, rather than a doomsday scenario. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An important part of self-reliance is to be certain we have the skills to earn a good living. To this end, Mormons, both male and female, are encouraged to get good educations and to train for a career, even if someone hopes to stay at home raising children. They are also encouraged to learn practical life skills that allow them to care for themselves as far as possible. Many church congregations offer classes in skills as diverse as tire changing, cooking, and home maintenance. Many also offer a free literacy program to help those who need it to learn any type of literacy they might need, whether it is academics, learning to write a personal history, or mastering the computer.
Mormons are taught to avoid debt and to live below their means. This cuts their costs, since interest adds a great deal to the cost of things we buy. It also keeps their expenses manageable during difficult times. They are counseled to have savings for emergencies and larger purchases.
Mormons also store food ahead. They store no more than they can actually use up, so how much of each item they store depends on how long it will stay good and how much they will use. They store a supply of foods that can sustain life and have a long shelf life, such as wheat. Then they store the more ordinary foods. They are taught to use their food storage so it does not get wasted. When Mormons shop, they place the new items in their food storage and rotate the supplies. When they need to restock their regular cupboards, they “shop” from the storage. They also store non-food items such as cleaning supplies and hygiene items.
This has several immediate benefits. It allows Mormons to buy items only when they are on sale, since they have plenty of food in their cupboards, and it also means they can buy in bulk when that is less expensive. Mormons reduce their food budget, making it easier to live on a smaller budget.
Mormons use their food storage for many types of emergencies, not just large ones. A family struggling through illness and not well enough to shop has plenty of food in the house. A family that has lost its employment or simply had some unexpected expenses can skip shopping for a while or limit the shopping to the perishables. This reduces cost and increases the likelihood that they will be able to survive the hardship.
No matter how well prepared people are, they sometimes face situations for which they might not be prepared. For instance, a family be prepared to last a full year, but unemployment might last longer, or a serious illness may use up their savings. In these cases, the church is prepared to help its members on a temporary basis. Mormons can fill food orders from a storehouse and receive other types of assistance, although they are never given cash. Since their needs are met internally, this frees up resources at community charities that can be used for others.
They receive more help than an ordinary charity can give. For instance, those who frequent ordinary food banks often receive one or two bags of food meant to last several weeks. This is because the food bank must help so many people they are forced to limit what they offer. Mormons, who help just those in their own congregation, are helping a smaller number of people. They receive all the food they need for the two week period. They first meet with their bishop (lay pastor) to review their budget to ensure they have done all they can do on their own. (It is not considered appropriate to ask for food while maintaining luxury expenses.) They then review the actual needs and make a plan to meet the essentials, not the luxuries, and also to see what the family needs to move forward.
A person who has lost employment can receive help writing a resume and learning to conduct a job search. If literacy or language is an issue, the church can help with that. Often a person who has the skill this person lacks is asked to coach the person.
When the church storehouses have surplus food, they send it to the community food banks and they also frequently loan their canneries to local charities.
This charitable assistance is provided through a unique program called “Fast offerings.” Once a month, Mormons who are physically able to do so go without food or drink of any kind for twenty-four hours. They donate the money saved to care for members of their congregation who are in need. By going hungry for a day, they can prevent someone else from being hungry for a long time. Those who receive the help are asked to do volunteer work to “repay” a portion of what they receive.
Self-reliance, from a Mormon standpoint, has two aspects—preparing to be self-reliant, and helping those who are in need of a little assistance to get back on their feet.
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.