Monday, October 20, 2014

After a disaster - how you can help not hinder

Liza Newman, Program Director for Marketing and Member Relations

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Update:

Unfortunately, there have been more disasters and more victims since I wrote the article below.  The requests are the same - let the first responders tell  you what you can do to help. Officials urge those wishing to help victims of the storms to avoid going to the affected areas themselves and instead to support the organizations that have mobilized on the ground to help those in need.

**Help the victims of the Midwest Tornados - http://www.redcross.org

**Help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines - http://www.redcross.org.ph/donate or World Food Program

**Help Colorado Flood Victims, don't let them disappear into the competing headlines: http://www.helpcoloradonow.net/

**Help victims of hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel in Mexico: Donate to the American Red Cross http://www.redcross.org/lp/donate-mexico-storms-floods

As I drove home from work Monday, I heard KFOR pilot Jon Welsh describe what he was seeing happen in front of him. I knew he was talking about a tornado and its vicious assault on an Oklahoma town. I came to realize that the play by play of the devastation was to his town, his neighborhood, he was part of the story he was reporting. I heard the fear in his voice, not just because he was flying in a helicopter right next to a tornado that has been reported to be almost 2 miles wide with winds over 200 miles an hour, but also because he knew that the news from his town wasn’t going to be good.

The whole nation is once again bereft over the unimaginable grief that the residents of Moore, Oklahoma are feeling. Our collective heart is breaking with theirs; we can feel their fear, their uncertainty. We have to do something. We can’t just sit and watch the relentless news coverage. We have to help. We have to send blankets and pillows and food and water and blood. They need us.

While we’re thinking of all the possible ways we can jump in, while we’re struggling to figure out what to do, the first responders are still struggling to find the living among the wreckage. Local government officials are working to implement the disaster recovery plan that they have in place. President Obama has declared a major disaster in Oklahoma thereby starting the process to send federal aid. Non-governmental organizations have sprung into action, setting up communication, relief funds, and working with the Oklahoma officials to give them what they need to help the victims.

We can help too, but we have to let the professionals do their job. As much as we may want to organize food drives, or collect diapers, or jump in our cars and drive down to help clear debris, we must give in stages and we must give in a way that will do the most good for the people we want to help.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management has a webpage that details the help that’s needed immediately after a disaster. Monetary donations top the list as the most useful help we can give. Visit http://www.bbb.org/us/charity to find a list of organizations you can trust to use your donation to help. To see a list of trusted charities that can specifically help in Moore, visit http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1567.

Rev. Richard W. Norman, of the Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, has asked that we “allow the first responders to do the work they need to do. Many unsolicited volunteers are showing up at the Incident Command Center in Moore.” The national office of Voluntary Organizations in Disaster asks that volunteers remember these facts:

  1. 1.Be safe: Do not self-deploy until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support. Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites and opportunities have been identified. Once assigned a position, make sure you have been given an assignment and are wearing proper safety gear for the task.
  2. 2.Be patient: Recovery lasts a lot longer than the media attention. There will be volunteer needs for many months, often years, after the disaster - especially when the community enters the long-term recovery period.

To learn more about long-term recovery after a disaster, read Lessons in Community Recovery.

We want to help. We want to fix things. We want to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans. And we can, we just need to listen to those who provide help every day when they tell us what they need.

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Indiana Campus Compact is grateful to Lilly Endowment Inc. for significant funding in support of programs, training,and resources for our member campuses that allow them to deepen their commitment to community engagement and service-learning.