Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Flirting with Disaster

What do hurricane season and Y2K preparedness
have in common? If you're ready for one,
you're ready for both

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Sunnie Thompson seals a can of dried carrots as she and
others in her church group work on building their
supplies of stored foods.

Canned and ready

For many families, being prepared
for any emergency is simply
a matter of faith

By Betty Shimabukuro


WHY are we not stocked up for a disaster? Let me count the ways. Not enough time to figure out how much food to buy and what kind. Not enough money to buy it. Not enough space to store it.

Well, we can all stop our whining.

Sunnie Thompson shares a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment with her husband and 4-year-old son. Yet, stashed away in this tiny living space is enough food to keep her family fed for a year. She's done it on a modest income and with no more free time than any of us.

When everything's stashed away, it's a neat, compact home.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Notes about date and contents are written on can lids.
The small packets in the cans are oxygen absorbers.

But take a tour: The headboard behind her bed is actually a cloth-covered row of upended boxes, each holding six cans of vacuum-packed food. A layer of boxes holds up the mattress. Three layers hold up her son's bed. In one corner are cases of water. In closets among clothes, on shelves among other supplies -- cans, jars, boxes of stored food.

Thompson belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which counsels its members to keep enough supplies on hand to provide for their families for a year.

This "provident living," a way of life in the LDS faith, holds lessons for anyone who sees the value in preparing for an emergency -- natural disaster, financial setback, Y2K.

And while a year's storage may seem too ambitious, Thompson's example is a valuable guide for those seeking to put together a 72-hour kit, or perhaps a week or a month's supply of food, in the event of, say, a hurricane warning.

"If you know you're prepared, all you have to worry about is getting your family to the house and staying safe," she says. "There's a real peacefulness about having this."


As food storage specialist for the Aiea Ward and the Honolulu West Stake of the LDS church, Thompson advises other church members on the priority foods to buy and how to keep them fresh for the longest time.

She suggests that you start by doing some self-evaluation within the family. Ask yourselves what you couldn't live without if you had to spend a year without a grocery store.

Thompson put the question to her own husband, and he said, "Ketchup."

She hit a big sale at Longs Drug Store (59 cents a bottle) and now has the red stuff tucked away in her clothes closet and anywhere else it'll fit.

"I always have a years' supply of ketchup. Absolutely. Ketchup."

That's the lighter side of an avocation that is absolutely serious to Thompson, that is, in fact, a matter of faith.

Donald Hallstrom, senior leader of the LDS church in Hawaii, says the church has a long-standing, basic philosophy of preparation, a standard of teaching that individuals, families, communities should prepare in good times for times of need.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
In Thompson's house, food supplies share closet
space with clothing and other household goods.

It's not a matter of hoarding or fear of the apocalypse; it has nothing to do with Y2K, Hallstrom says. And recognizing that goods cost more in Hawaii and living space is tighter, church members are expected simply to do their best. "When you have the ability to do so, store extra things and someday in the future this will pay off."

When Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai, Hallstrom says, many LDS members were able to help their neighbors because they were well-prepared. Still, a family's food stores are more likely to be tapped in times of personal struggle, he says. "The likelihood that somebody will need it for personal financial reasons is greater than a natural disaster."

Such was the case with Thompson, who had to dip into her stored food three years ago when she was jobless for seven months. "I imagine we used about a three months' supply. ... It was really hard to use it. I'd been so thankful to be able to have some extra -- but I figured, that's what it's there for."


For five years, Thompson has been working on her food stores, but it wasn't until two months ago that she felt confident she had a year's supply safely tucked away. Her next priority is spices and homeopathic medicines.

She has stored grains, sugar, oil, salt, dried milk, powdered eggs, canned fruit and vegetables, condiments and snacks, soup and juice mixes, peanut butter and lots more. Also on hand: a month's worth of water, a propane tank, 200 feet of rope (in case she has to haul water up from the ground floor of her highrise), sprouter, solar shower, solar radio, lanterns and water filters.

All the food -- 100 items -- is tracked on her computer, so she knows when foods must be replaced and where to find them in her labyrinth of storage.

In April and October, during a semi-annual, nationally televised church conference, Thompson makes a thorough survey of her food supplies, rotating out older items and moving boxes around so they'll be efficiently placed for the next rotation. She listens to the two days of telecasts while sorting her supplies.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Ethan's bed sits neatly next to his parents'.

Thompson has the advantage of being able to buy many bulk foods -- as well as supplies such as cans and storage bags -- through the church. But she says others can build their storage by shopping sales and buying in bulk through discount stores. "I never have to pay full price. I buy 10, 15, 20 at a time when I see things on sale."

Foods are stored in air-tight cans or in sealed mylar bags packed with oxygen absorbers -- little packets containing iron powder, which absorbs all the air in the bag, allowing for longer storage.

Whole grains store particularly well, up to eight years. Rice lasts about a year, along with water and oil. Canned goods should be rotated out every six months.

When things are close to their expiration dates, she moves them into her pantry to be eaten. Anything that can't be eaten is donated to foodbanks.


Thompson's secret weapon: whole-grain wheat. It can be ground into flour for baking, cooked and combined with beans to make a complete protein, sprouted to provide a fresh element for meals or -- when serious self-sufficiency is called for -- planted.

It costs about 36 cents a pound, but doubles in size when cooked. "It's very inexpensive to use," Thompson says. "I tell everyone, even if you don't use wheat, store some wheat."

In non-emergency times, cooked wheat can be used to supplement meat, freeing up cash, which c

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Ethan's mattress is moved by his mother, Sunnie
Thompson, to reveal a hidden cache of canned food.

an be used to bulk up your food storage, she says.

For all Thompson's devotion to this cause, her husband, Myron, is not sold on the concept. His No. 2 necessity, after ketchup, was Werthers hard candy. She has a gallon can of it packed away.

She perseveres. "I told my husband, when we need it, you don't need to say I'm sorry, but I might take a minute to gloat."

Stocking up

Sunny Thompson's research into food-storage standards has yielded this guide to foods that should be stored to sustain a family of five -- two adults and three children ages 4-12 -- for a month. This assumes no outside food will be available and that you will be baking your own bread, etc.:*

Bullet Canned meats: 5 pounds
Bullet Canned soups: 20 cans
Bullet Dried beans: 7 pounds
Bullet Fruits: Dried or canned, equivalent of 36 pounds
Bullet Fruit juices: Canned or concentrated, 9 pounds
Bullet Gelatin, pudding, powdered butter and eggs, etc: 4 pounds
Bullet Milk: Dried, 38 pounds, (for baking and drinking)
Bullet Potatoes: Dehydrated or canned, equivalent of 13 pounds fresh
Bullet Rice and other grains: 25 pounds
Bullet Salad oil: 10 pounds
Bullet Sugar or honey: 12 pounds
Bullet Vegetables: Dried or canned, equivalent of 12 pounds fresh
Bullet Water: 140 gallons
Bullet Wheat: 67 pounds (for baking bread, sprouts, protein supplement)
Bullet Other items: Vitamins, peanut butter, etc., according to individual family needs.
* Assumes a 2,200-calorie per-person diet. Most people could get along for a short period on less.

Keeping it fresh

For long-term storage, foods need to be sealed, with all oxygen removed.

Bullet Cans and bags: Oxygen absorbers remove air from foods before they are sealed up. Order through Walton Feed Inc., (800)-269-8563,, or Doug Care Equipment, (661)-297-0377,

Bullet Dry ice: Place a small amount of dry ice (at Gaspro, 89 cents per pound) in a Rubbermaid-type container and burp it until all the air is displaced. Seal.

Learn more

Bullet The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints offers workshops year-round in emergency preparedness, open to the general public. Check the phone book for the ward nearest you and call for dates.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin