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I’m Irish.

November 21, 2013

Why state the obvious?  Because I want to clarify that before I tell you my opinion to the spontaneous generosity generated in reaction to disasters.

I have been blessed to be on the ground and on the front line for a few natural disasters and individual crisis’s.   Why blessed?  Because my friend, every time that you give of yourself you are replenished a gazillion-fold.  Your perspective is altered in a fantastic way.  Your foundation is strengthened.  Your faith enriched.  And your empathy and compassion grows immeasurably.  I feel God has given me a gift and a curse.  My heart aches for those who suffer, whether I view it first hand or via media I simply ache when others do.

As I have personally witnessed, I am not alone with that compassion.  I have sat with a family who has lost a loved one and seen food and extensions of assistance literally pour in the front door.  I have seen families walk through the first days of extreme pain with an ease only made possible because of compassionate and generous hearts around them.  I have worked alongside of complete strangers on many occasions cleaning up debris, sifting through rubble, and listening to heart breaking stories of trauma and loss.  I have wanted not to leave because at that very moment I feel more useful and full of want to help then any minute in countless previous days.  I have sat and listened to a friend who has hit a wall, financially, emotionally, or physically disabled.  They unload, they cry, I hug, they express relief, I carry it home and sift it through my mind and heart in an infinity pattern processing, praying, and pondering how I can assist.  Each and every opportunity to grow in being, spirit and faith should be embraced with wild abandon knowing that you can only achieve the potential you were created to achieve by seizing every opportunity to live, listen, laugh, labor, and love.

When crisis hits people respond.  No matter what you see posted from the most cynical person, know that the majority of persons walking on this earth are good and loving citizens.  We are created with the desire to help.  Some of the giving is fueled by survivors guilt, seeing someone crying over the loss of someone they loved or everything they owned moves even the hardest heart to be thankful that it wasn’t them.  We can’t undo the damage but we can send a meal, a case of water, personal supplies or stuffed animals and know that we offered something.  Please don’t think I’m bashing giving those items!  In the right time and place those are exactly what is needed to initiate healing.  However it is a fact that sometimes we just send “something” just to calm our spirits that we did “something”.  Nothing wrong with that if all of what we send is used, consumed or attached to one in need, but that is not the case.  Each of the three tornado sites I have visited I have personally witnessed surplus, unneeded donations, and waste.  It causes my heart to ache because I personally know families in our own community who could truly use what will be tossed, but who would also offer what they could, even if it was to short their family, to help someone they have seen in the media as more “in need”.

My humble advice for those who want to help those in disasters is to help those who help those in disasters.  Support the agencies:  Salvation Army, Red Cross, United Way, local Federal Non-Profits, churches, Township Human Services Departments, local food & clothing pantries.  They are on the ground assessing needs, feeding, supplying, meeting with those who have suffered losses, and assisting.  They can only do this with funds.  Things are appreciated but “we” cannot profess to know their needs.  Those in need know, those that are helping them know, but we cannot possibly know, we can only guess.  Pulling out surplus from your pantries, linen closets, closets, and storage areas is fantastic if that is where the void is, but for many they simply need to fill their gas tank, refill prescriptions, get the right size & style shoes, or repair the damaged roof, windows, garage doors, siding, etc.

I was on site in Moore, OK within 72 hours after the tornado.  In 72 hours I was apart of  crew of volunteers that had to unload and tarp semi trucks full of donations that were pouring into the church that I was housed at faster than we could sort them:  tons of clothes, canned food, paper products, and bottles of water.  There was simply not enough need to meet the generosity.  In that area, as with Coal City, Diamond and Washington there were so many within reach that welcomed the newly homeless with open arms and met their basic needs, they couldn’t take on all of the donations because there was no place to keep them.  They could only accept what they could immediately use.  The rest of what they needed would have to be purchased.  What a wonderful and horrible problem to have!  Every immediate material need could be met, but they needed more than what was offered.  They needed funds to repair and replace, those needs couldn’t be met with the surplus of water bottles and stuffed animals, therefore there was waste. Even at our local food pantries I see more macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, cream of something soup, Cheerios, and Ramon than a nation could consume  in one year, yet the kid’s shoes are worn and the gas tank is always on empty (in more ways than one in a financially challenged home).

Going back to my original claim:  I am Irish.  I am cheap.  I will reuse a rag until you can see through it.  I will duct tape something  2” thick before I toss it in the garbage and give up on it.  I contort a toothpaste container in positions that you have never seen it formed into just to get that last bit out.  So to see the piles and piles of well-intentioned, assumed to be needed, could be used by those who do not have other resources, items laying in piles exposed to weather or looters, I ache.  Every person who is walking through these most horrific times needs your help!  But they may not need your canned goods.  They truly will benefit more from the couple of dollars that you can offer, no matter what the amount!  Every single dollar counts when you have to replace your child’s medicine or fill your gas tank as you are driving from your mother’s house to your damaged and uninhabitable home.

I am humbled to be known as a conduit from those that have to those that need and I take that title and responsibility very seriously and with grave intensity.  Therefore I would be untrue to myself and to you, leading you awry to say “just give anything you can find to give”.   My friends I ask you to ask those that are assisting, research via requests posted, and think about what you would want if you were walking in their shoes.  You would want the ability to meet your needs when that freedom had been taken from you during a crisis situation.  If everyone who was moved to help gave even just $1 those that were responding to the worse crisis that has ever happened to that friend in need would actually be able to assist them to the fullest extent of their needs.  Possibly helping them to return to some semblance of “normal” faster because you made that possible.  With the compassion that resonates around and through us, basic needs will be met as well as the HUGE more difficult to meet needs (repairs, replacements, rebuilds, and counseling for all who are having trouble dealing with their loss, plot, struggles and want that assistance).   I know many are hesitant to offer funds but today once again I witnessed that the only way this community will return to a functioning level is from tasks being completed, and not before.  It is easier now than ever before to investigate where your donations go.  Therefore, in the same amount of time that it takes to deliver your donation of things, you can research, choose and donate to whom our friend’s return to “normal” brings.

Golden Rule of assisting in individual crisis & natural disasters:  Give (physically, emotionally, prayerfully, and financially) as you would want to receive.

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