In times of economic crisis, one of the early news stories we hear is that food banks run out of food. It’s important, for that reason, for churches to take care of their own people, leaving the food banks to care for those who have nowhere else to turn.
Mormons are especially dedicated to this process. While Mormons are counseled to build up food storage, live simply, and avoid debt, there comes a time in most lives where extra help is needed. When this happens, and family can’t help, the church steps in.
One way they do this is through bishop’s storehouses. The storehouse is like a small grocery store, with food stacked neatly on shelves around the room. However, there isn’t a cash register because the food cannot be purchased. It is given to Mormons having temporary food needs.
A Mormon in need goes to his bishop(clerical leader) to discuss the problem and what the member has done to try to resolve the problem alone. They might also be asked to bring in their budget and income, to show they need the help. The bishop then decides if they qualify for assistance. The Relief Society president (head of the women’s auxiliary) may also pay a visit to the wife to decide what assistance is needed. The family prepares two week’s worth of menus and then receives a signed order form to take with them. They present it to the storehouse, where volunteers assist them in filling the order. The order is then checked against the items selected and the church member leaves without paying.
This is different from a regular food bank. It includes many types of items needed-food, cleaning supplies, baby care and personal hygiene products. The non-perishables are available each week, produced by the church or purchased, so the supply is consistent. A careful family can possibly avoid shopping at all, whereas those who frequent a food bank get a selection chosen by someone else and is usually not enough to last until they can return.
How are the Mormons able to provide such a service? First, because the service is normally only available to members, they can provide more for each person. The way the program is paid for is also unique. Mormons are asked to go without food or drink of any kind, even water, for twenty-four hours the first Sunday of each month. This causes them to skip two meals, since they usually start right after lunch and then have lunch the next day at the end of the fast. They then donate at least the amount they saved by doing this to a special fund called a fast offering. This money is used entirely to care for those in need.
This means that when a member needs help, he or she is using a service he has helped to fund in the past. It’s members taking care of each other. In addition, the process helps those who are paying into the fund. By being hungry for a day, they have a small portion of understanding of what it might mean to be hungry all the time. They have sacrificed to help another person, but haven’t gone any further into their budgets to do this, since they didn’t use any food that day.
Surplus foods are generally donated to community food banks.
The storehouse is meant as a temporary measure, to allow people the comfort of eating well as they get back on their feet and learn how to escape poverty. Other church resources help members learn the skills needed to escape poverty and become self-sufficient.