Ice Storms and Power Failures

15 12 2008

More than 1 million homes and businesses blacked out by huge ice storm:

CONCORD, N.H. – Utility crews worked through a night of hand-numbing cold in northeastern U.S. states, but they still had a long way to go before restoring power to all of the more than 1 million homes and businesses blacked out by a huge ice storm.

In New Hampshire, where more than 370,000 customers still had no electricity Saturday, Gov. John Lynch urged residents still without power to make overnight plans early.

“I think there were a lot of people who decided to just stick it out and stay home last night hoping that power would be restored today, but I think people have to assume that power will not come back today and seek shelter,” Lynch said.

The ice storm compared with some of the Northeast’s worst, especially in New Hampshire, where more than half the state — 400,000-plus homes and businesses — was without power at the peak of the outage. Far fewer customers were affected by the infamous Ice Storm of ’98, when some residents spent more than a week in the dark. New Hampshire opened at least 25 shelters.

People lost power as far south as Pennsylvania, but most of the outages were in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and New York.

At least one death was blamed on the storm: New Hampshire officials said a man died of carbon monoxide poisoning after turning on his generator when his power went out Thursday night.

Extended power outages during winter are not a rare occurrence in the North. And ironically, as the power grid has become more efficient, it has become less reliable. Redundancy can be viewed as “waste” from a “lean” management perspective, which reduces profits. Sometimes it is. But there is a point at which eliminating redundancies leaves your system extremely vulnerable. Energy providers are willing to accept this risk in order to reap additional profits. And we do not have the option of shopping for more reliable electric service.

The individual is now in the position where he must build in his own redundant networks to mitigate the risk that the energy providers will periodically fail to deliver. This could be non-electric means of heat and light, a backup generator, or even a bug-out location.


Building an “Emergency Fund” of Food

4 12 2008

Check out this good guest post on food storage on Money Saving Mom. One of the comments was interesting:

I do this too and find it helpful. We just lost over one month of pay because my spouse’s company just folded and couldn’t pay their employees – his entire monthly paycheque and $500 worth of expenses just gone. I’m so glad that I have been prepared both with the emergency fund and wise grocery shopping. Times are tough but we’ll get by.

Then go to Safely Gathered In and check out some of the informative posts there. The current one is on canning food in #10 cans, which is cool though I have no idea how expensive the equipment is. Also I don’t know what you could put in #10 cans, but what if your church could have a big lasagna (or whatever kind of food) canning party, where everyone brings a dish and you could put away canned meals for a kind of food bank at the church?

Food Banks Can’t Meet Growing Demand – But Christian Families Could!

2 12 2008

From USA Today:

Donations to many of the USA’s food banks are not keeping pace with growing demand as the sour economy forces more people to seek help, charitable organizations say.

“We have seen a 100% increase in demand in the last year … and food donations have dropped precipitously,” says Dana Wilkie, CEO of the Community Food Bank in Fresno, Calif.

And the UK’s Times Online reports that many charitable organizations are on the brink of collapse due to corporations curtailing contributions due to economic conditions, while at the same time demand for services is increasing for the same reason.

Shelter, the homelessness charity, says that it has lost £400,000 in six weeks as corporate sponsors cancel contributions. It has been forced to lay off 30 staff at a time when a rise in the number of repossessions has seen demand for the charity’s services rise by 20 per cent.

But now consider this:

A U.S. Senate subcommittee report estimated that if every Christian family would only take care of its own, the federal dole would decrease a full 30 percent. If every church would then take care of its own, the dole would decrease another 12 percent. And then, if each of those churches would provide a sponsoring family to exercise charity to a single outsider, the federal dole could be eliminated completely. Just like that. Families simply fulfilling their Christian responsibility to their own (1 Timothy 5:8), to their brethren in Christ (Galatians 6:10), and to the stranger and alien (Exodus 23:9) can so effectively do the work of charity that no back-up system, no federal bureaucracy, no matching funds, and no professional humanitarians are necessary. Families can do the job.

~George Grant, Bringing In The Sheaves – Replacing Government Welfare with Biblical Charity

I found this quote from Grant’s book to be thought-provoking. Since there are many views on what “charity” really is, I should mention that it doesn’t mean actions based on guilt and pity, such as just indiscriminately handing out free stuff to everyone that asks.

While biblical charity certainly doesn’t exclude gifts, God’s provision for the poor (as revealed in his word) is discriminating. Those that are able to work, must work. We should not interfere with God’s judgment of prodigals, sluggards, and drunkards. They must be called to Christ, called to their families, and called to work. Biblical charity is an equipping of men to do those things.

When Your Friends’ and Family’s Plan Is Simply “To Show Up At Your House” In An Emergency

29 11 2008

As soon as I read this, I could relate:

I have a big family (household of 8/9) plus many auxiliary family members in close geographic proximity. One of my concerns has been that these family members have absolutely zero interest in food storage. I know that if there is a problem, their plan is to just show up at my house.

That will upset my household food storage plan which is dependent on the number of people here (with some leeway of course) and it may be impossible if there is something like a quarantine for bird flu or anything else. In addition, I have an emergency bag containing all important family papers, water filter, etc., and a plan to go to mother-in-laws house 1.5 hours west of here if there is a need to bug out (such as a nuclear accident at Indian Point). I cannot show up at mother-in-laws house with 8 hungry mouths to feed and no food.

So what this blogger did was to prepare some emergency buckets for friends and family, and I thought it was a great idea. Go read the post for the list of items and pictures, and modify as you think appropriate. (Be sure to share any good suggestions you might have!)

Let’s Be Realistic

19 11 2008

Interesting article in the LA Times about adult children moving their families back in with their parents due to job loss and or/foreclosure. Some typical examples:

Donald Garcia, 35, and his wife, Augustine, were living in a Burbank apartment when Augustine’s mother approached them for help. She had refinanced her three-bedroom Tujunga home a year and a half earlier with an interest-only loan, and what had been a $900 monthly house payment had doubled.

“Her mortgage company told her she couldn’t refinance for seven years, so we moved in to help out,” says Garcia, who added that a change in his apartment’s pet policy would have forced a move anyway.

Then, a few months ago, more change: Augustine lost her $60,000-a-year job as a manager at a hardware store. Garcia, trained as an electrician’s assistant, could find no such work following the collapse of the housing market, so he started driving a tow truck. Now he and Augustine, he says, owe money to her mother because they haven’t been able to help much with household expenses.

…29-year-old Ondor Ozer of West L.A. In 2006, Ozer was working in retail when he decided to buy a 3,500-square-foot house in Hemet with plans to find a new job nearby. After a year without success, he realized he’d have to lose the house to foreclosure or rent it out and move back in with his parents. He chose the latter.

“I’m upside-down in my mortgage quite a bit — about $1,300,” he says, citing the difference between what he pays on the loan each month and what he’s able to collect in rent. “I’m almost 30, and I really don’t want to be here, in my parents’ house. But I have a nearly 2-year-old son to worry about.”

Ozer says his sister and her two kids have also moved back into his parents’ 1,300-square-foot home. She’s renting out her house to cover that mortgage — and coming up short about $200 to $300 each month, he says.

I had a few thoughts after reading this article. First is that I see and hear of many people that haven’t really accepted their own personal “worst-case scenario”. They’ll be discussing their need to float two mortgages, and explain that “Worst-case scenario, I can rent the old one out (or pay both monthly bills, etc.)”

In the worst-case scenario, though, you might not have a job. You also might need to support more than your own immediate family! And renting out the house may be a proposition which loses money! We need to be realistic about the future, and not adjust the frame so that it only shows the palatable outcomes.

Second is that there is a sense in which financial hard-times are good because they force people to become less independent, and more interdependent with family, church, and community. It is a mixed blessing, but there really is a silver lining there.

Where Do We Begin?

18 11 2008

This week’s Question of the Week is Where Do We Begin?

Tony Woodliff at World Magazine recently wrote about “rediscovering his inner farmer“:

Maybe it’s just insecurity stemming from the current economic meltdown, or perhaps a latent agrarianism, but I find myself looking at our land and wondering how we might pull food from it. I never learned much about farming, I don’t know the first thing about hunting, and I’m a pretty poor fisherman. I think I’d like to get better at all of them. I suppose there are many reasons: doing my part to squeeze oil out of the food chain, drawing close to creation, improving our diets, doing good work with my sons, acquiring and passing along what one day may once again become survival skills. I’m haunted as well by something Berry wrote in one of his Home Economics essays, that you are free to the extent that you can provide for yourself. If you have to hand over money to people to do even the most basic things for you, then you are ultimately dependent.

So this winter I’ll be talking to local farmers and reading some gardening books and possibly learning how to use a bow. It promises to be a glorious disaster, and I’ll be lucky to emerge next fall with all my fingers and toes intact. But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s just as important to teach my sons these things as to teach them how to read well, how to use logic, how to see the world. I suppose in that I’m just rediscovering what our forbears knew, that a life of work in creation should not be separated from a life of the mind.

Perhaps you have someone like Tony in your church or community, who is beginning to sense the reality of the vulnerable position that the modern specialized man is in. And for every person like Tony, there’s probably a dozen people that are completely oblivious to the danger ahead.

There seem to be a lot of contradictory ideas being held. Corporately, we generally admit dire economic times overall, but we continue to presume that we’ll continue to not only remain employed but that our pay will increase as it always has. We talk about the “housing” debacle, but the majority of us still think that the value of our own home has stayed the same or increased. It is known as “risky behavior”. We Christians find it easy to condemn sexual promiscuity but exhibit the same tendencies when it comes to our finances, racking up debt and doubling down in tough times.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m wagging a finger, because I’m just as guilty as anyone else. And rather than point out examples of ways we’re failing, I’m hoping to find ways to help.

So with all that as a prelude: Where Do We Begin?

Are You Preparing To Feed Others?

11 11 2008

This week’s Question of the Week is:

Are you preparing to feed others?

Some time ago I read George Grant’s book called Bringing In The Sheaves: Replacing Government Welfare with Biblical Charity. It contains a number of helpful ideas. He pointed out that, to our shame, some non-Christian groups like the Mormons have a much more comprehensive plan for feeding their own than we do. Mormon families are taught to store food, and so if they should happen to lose their job they often still have enough food for a year and don’t need to go begging. Most Christians, however, live paycheck to paycheck and so when a small church has one or more members that lose their job it becomes a major issue right away.

While not wanting to get carried away or losing focus, I’ve been wondering about whether the diaconal ministry should include teaching and challenging families to recover the lost arts of food storage. To many moderns the very idea sounds a bit crazy and reactionary, but to past generations it was just common sense and the way you made it through winters and lean years. If all the members of the church were in the habit of storing food, then even if everyone in the church lost their job, they could still feed their own families, as well as their elders, their widows, and their orphans. And thinking outwardly, it seems like if the members of our churches each had a one-year supply of basic food items (as well as the know-how to produce food, another lost art), then it would be in a great position as far as being able to help those in need that came along.

It seems like extra cash is often hard to come by for many people. But – if we had plenty of food in our pantries, we could at least very easily offer food to those in need (in exchange for work). I know some people may already do this, but in the churches I’ve been a part of this has never been identified as something that would be good for everybody to do as a covenantal strategy for feeding the poor.

What do you think? Are you (or perhaps your church) involved in anything like this?

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