In a matter of minutes the stories that you watch on the news can become your life. The things that you had always thought “don’t happen to real people” can become your reality or the reality of those you love and work with. Neighbors, friends, nobody is immune.
Our family learned that first hand on May 22nd when our home was destroyed by a tornado. We never imagined that when we walked into our bathroom to take shelter our home would be destroyed. Our house, our things, our community all violently ripped away in seconds.
The loss and emotions that come from experiencing disaster are some of the strongest emotions I have ever felt. I can’t even describe them with words, only tears. Tears of sadness and tears of joy.
Tornadoes, fires, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes to name a few.
They are all so different but all very painful.
Today I want to talk about a few ways that you can REALLY help those living through a disaster.
Excessive amounts of clothes, old kitchen stuff and toys mostly in shambles, missing pieces or broken. I remember donation centers being flooded with remnants of people’s garage sale items. People often forget that disaster usually leave you homeless without a place to put stuff. Furthermore immediate needs are usually pretty specific.
If you want to send stuff send items that people need to replace fast. Car seats, quality basic clothing items, diapers. Think about what you would want and need if you had nothing and send that.
Give gift cards & cash//
The gifts that were the most helpful were those that came in the form of either gift cards or cash. It was so nice to have those around when we finally were settled into a new home a month later. I can’t even tell you how many trips we had to make to the store to replace things. Being able to swipe a gift card instead of a credit card made those trips a lot less painful.
Don’t donate to the Red Cross or other large charitable organizations//
I am sure that the Red Cross does a lot of good with the money that they receive, but I can say first hand outside of tetanus shots and meals I am not sure where it went in Joplin. The local Salvation Army still has THOUSANDS of dollars they received to help tornado recovery sitting in a bank account 4 years later. Wasn’t that money intended to help people?
Give your time//
Another way people helped us was by giving of their time. From helping us dig through our stuff and get things cleaned up, moving into a new place, watching our kids while we worked or simply inviting us over for dinner. There is a way that everyone can help out and many ways that help is needed.
I would also encourage you to not be discouraged if you volunteer to help and they don’t immediately assign you a job. Disaster is overwhelming. Sometimes they don’t know how to instruct you to help because looking at the big picture is too much for them and they don’t even know what they need to do.
Keep asking, don’t give up. As the weeks go by needs will become more evident. Also keep in mind the way you volunteer your help. If you say, “Can I watch your kids for you while you get some stuff done?” or “Can I make you dinner?” rather than “What can I do to help?” it may help them to be able to focus a bit more instead of just getting overwhelmed… again.
Prayers while piecing life back together post disaster are invaluable. They are precious. Knowing that others were supporting us through prayer during the most difficult time of our life was a life line. Notes, messages, texts and letters of scripture and prayers fed my soul for weeks and months on end.
I would encourage you to take things beyond just praying for them through the day but to also pray with them. I remember many tearful prayer times with friends and strangers that still mean the world to me years later.
Do not forget them//
The news will eventually stop talking about it. Life will start to go on again. The new normal become more familiar… but please, please do not forget them. It took us a little over year before the physical things in our life were “back to normal” after the tornado. The emotional wounds took much, much longer to recover from and sometimes I still feel a bit of a sting. This ties back to giving of your time and praying. I would urge you to be a system of support for the long haul. Still praying, still helping, still supporting until restoration is complete.
I never imagined May 22nd ever happening.
I would never wish what we experienced on anyone else and it rips my heart out to see the fear on the faces of others who have experienced similar tragedies. The first thing I want to do is hug them. I want to tell them that it is going to be okay and be able to say that as someone who has walked through and knows the pain and the loss. I want to show them the face of Jesus through my words and actions. I can honestly say that before walking through disaster I would have ever felt that way. I would have said, “Oh that sucks” and moved on with my selfish life.
5:41 p.m. May 22nd, 2011 was a gift.
God used a tornado to make me a more compassionate person.