LIBERTY — When news of the coronavirus pandemic broke, lots of people began stocking up with groceries and household supplies, just in case.
Not Chris and Jocelyn Hollis. Not Richie and Rona Culotta. And not other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They’ve been doing it for decades, as a regular part of church practice.
“My whole life, my grandparents, my parents, we’ve always had a year’s supply of staple items, a three-month supply of convenience items, and what we call a 72-hour emergency pack,” said Jocelyn, who is public affairs specialist for the church’s Liberty Ward.
“When all this started, I didn’t have to run out and buy toilet paper. I already had toilet paper.”
The church urges members not just to take care of themselves but to help others in time of need, said Jocelyn’s sister Rona, who lives next door.
The sisters — including sister Noralyn Perkins — have a slight edge up on other people, though, as Blalock’s Food Center in Liberty is part of their family heritage. Their father Merrill still puts in long hours at the store at age 80.
Rather than clean out the store’s shelves when they get ready to resupply, the sisters find out what’s going to be on sale and order a batch ahead of time.
Stocking up on supplies is good for body and soul, said Chris Hollis, who is president of the Denham Springs, La., Stake, which is over a number of wards.
“It’s got a religious background, being self-reliant temporally as well as spiritually. It’s one and the same,” he said.
Unlike some survivalists who say they are looking out for No. 1, Mormons want to be able to help others in time of need. That includes family, church members, neighbors and community.
“The better we are prepared, the better we are able to minister to family and neighbors,” Chris said.
“We’re not encouraged to hang on for ourselves and hoard it,” Jocelyn added. “It’s to share it with others.”
Nor are Mormons necessarily planning for “The End of the World as We Know It,” as doomday preppers call it.
“It’s not a gloom-and-doom scenario,” Chris pointed out.
Rather, storing supplies is useful for any hard time, whether unemployment, hurricane — or an unexpected two-week quarantine.
That’s what happened to the Culottas when their missionary son Colby was extracted from Benin in late March due to the pandemic. After the Culottas met him at the airport, they learned they had to spend two weeks in home quarantine, just in case they had come into contact with the virus.
“Had I not had this, I would not have had time to go buy food,” Rona said. “We were able to live off this the entire time.”
There’s plenty of Biblical precedent for stockpiling, of course, such as Joseph advising the Pharoah to store up seven years worth of grain for a coming famine, Jocelyn said.
During the recent bread shortage, she used her wheat grinder to make flour for family and friends and shared cleaning supplies with a nursing home and a doctor’s office.
Jocelyn gets canned bulk goods like wheat, oats, dried beans and powdered milk from the Bishops’ Storehouse in Slidell, La., one of numerous Mormon nonprofit supply centers around the world. Non-Mormons can order, too, via the church’s “provident living” website.
Mormons fast one day a month and donate the amount they would have spent on food to the storehouse.
A giving spirit is part of the Blalock tradition going back decades.
“I’m sure my dad will die a poor man from giving things away and helping other people,” Jocelyn said. She paraphrases a Scripture verse, “Where much is given, much is required.”
Mormon history also provides incentives to be prepared, such as being forced into exile in the 1800s.
“You never know what sort of event might happen,” Chris said. “The church has learned that the hard way.”
“They forced people out in the middle of winter,” Jocelyn said. “You want to be able to be self-sustaining and you want to help others.”
The Hollises’ climate-controlled storage room looks like a tiny grocery store, with shelves loaded with cans, jars and packages. They also raise a garden and keep a year’s worth of seeds ready.
Jocelyn makes sure to move older items to the front and newer ones to the rear. Special apps and online resources help determine how much food to buy and how to store it.
While she keeps plenty of bottled water, the Culottas also have a 200-foot well with a hand pump next door.
They dug the well in preparation for the year 2000, when the Y2K “Millennium Bug” was predicted to bring civilization to a halt. Didn’t happen, of course, but it didn’t hurt to be ready.
The Culottas also raise a garden, an orchard, chickens and a goat.
In the store room, Rona said it’s important to stock up on foods the family will eat — and in her case that includes items like beef stew, canned pasta and sauce, ramen noodles and M&Ms in addition to the more traditional rice, beans, sugar and flour.
The Culottas’ spacious store room also has an entrance to an underground storm shelter. They built the shelter first and later added the room around it.
Richie, who is bishop of the church’s Liberty Ward, said his favorite Bible verse is Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.“
“When you’re prepared, you can be happy no matter the circumstances,” he said.