How to lend true assistance to our friends and family located on the Gulf coast is challenge where I and others struggle. Sometimes we act before we think or even ask. I know firsthand what it’s like to go through a hurricane but what worked for me or may have helped others in the past may not be the solution that’s needed now or appreciated today.
We react swiftly in natural disasters to help victims restore the comforts of home. However, local authorities, communities, and neighborhoods are struggling to assess the damage, destruction, measured response. This a key first step. From a potential volunteer’s standpoint, personal patience is required during this time period.
True help comes early in the recovery with donations of cash to creditable disaster response organizations or to those you recognize and trust that are currently active in the disaster response. Cash will be used immediately to meet the needs unique to our affected families and friends.
We recently remembered the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. Dealing with excessive donations of clothing was one painful lesson from this storm. As documented by disaster preparedness officials I know that went through Andrew, many well intended kind gifts of support were eventually destroyed and never used. Significant rains after the storm caused large piles of clothing to mildew and rot.
Excessive and unwanted donations have been called “the second disaster” as communities struggle to deal with the logistics of inappropriate items such as excessively worn items, heavy coats, or sweatshirts. Neither disaster victims nor officials typically have the time to sort through semi-truckloads of unwanted or inappropriate donations. Unfortunately, this story has been repeated several times in our response to other disasters in the past 20 years.
Volunteering or simply helping a friend could be another issue. Just showing up on someone’s doorstep without supplies to support your own needs rarely helps victims when food, water, and electricity supplies are limited. Know the situation and know how to help before entering the disaster area. Many impacted areas will have limited access and are restricted to only law enforcement or residents.
The best way to help is to be part of an established charity or organized group of trained volunteers. Alternately, individuals may want to directly assist family or friends – when the timing is right and communication of a request has been made from a known friend or family member.
Disaster recovery takes a long time and opportunities to help victims in a meaningful way will be available weeks and months from now. Today is a good day to seek application and training with organizations that can eventually put your talents and time in the best possible place to truly help.
The Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, VolunteerFlorida.org has a complete list of established relief organizations. These vetted organizations have an established reputation for putting resources to work where they are needed. For more information about volunteering to help with disaster recovery contact your local volunteer center or VolunteerFlorida.org at 1-800-FL-HELP1 (354-3571).