How To Really Help Those Living Through A Disaster

The only thing that is certain in life, is that life is uncertain.

 
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.

Disaster happens.

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.

Hot to really help those living through a disaster. Tips from a survivor on what and what not to do.  

Don’t clean out your attic and donate the stuff you don’t want any more.

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?

If you want to help financially look for smaller trustworthy organizations or specific families to donate to. Find organizations that will take the money and use it to help the people it was intended to help.

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.
 
Pray//
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. 

It is now my hope and prayer that I can encourage others how to love well during the difficult times when people need it the most.
 
 
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  • Beth,

    First, what a story. It resonates with me on so many levels. Your assessment that your tragedy was used for good in your life to make you a more compassionate person is so insightful. I learned the same lesson in my life through something painful.

    I love this post and all the information. We donate to Gleaning for the World, based out of Central Virginia, where we live. (Gleaning for the World has been recognized as “The Most Efficient Large Charity in America” by Forbes magazine.) I have no connection with them – just wanted to offer that info in case someone is wondering about a good private charity to partner with.

    Thank you again for sharing your story and for all you are doing over here.

    Embracing the Journey,
    Christi

  • Elizabeth

    You know, to be completely honest, the things I see on TV, I totally do what you say. "Wow, that's horrible, I feel so bad for them" and then move on. Honestly the little snippet you see on TV can only do so much for viewers to even understand what's going on. Like the flooding in Texas. It's horrible. But you see it on TV for 5 seconds and that's all. To really be in a disaster, a huge one like you, makes you really stop and think about what those people are really going through. I need to stop and think more often.
    The part of this story that I love the most is when you said tears of joy and sadness. I know that may sound weird, but originally all I could think of would be for tears of sadness…that this happened. That your house was gone. That disaster struck your home. But really, so, so THANKFULLY you all were ok. You can't replace people but you can replace houses. I'm so glad that you all were ok (physically) after the tornado hit your house.

  • These are really good tips. When you haven't gone through it it is hard to know how to really help. Love the one on finding a smaller more local way to donate than Red Cross.

  • Great suggestions on how to help a hurting city or group of people. Thanks for your insight!

  • I worked with Red Cross in my town after a disaster. We gave out those gift cards to those who had their homes destroyed. I know personally when you give to the Red Cross you can designate that all funds remain local on your check. They have to honor that. You can also ask for a report on how the funds were spent. I know this is true in my area, but I am not sure how other Red Cross chapters work. You can always ask before you give and like I said be clear about where you want the funds to go and designate it on your check.

  • Also another PS I think your tip on just giving to families you know personally impacted is great too. We work with our church and have a fund for disasters assistance as well as assistance for needy families.

  • I never know how to react in devastating situations, thank you for the personal account of what helped your family through. Prayer is pretty much my go-to but tangible support is important also. Thankful you guys were physically safe!!!

  • Thank you for this. I often wonder how to help those in need but you're right. DOnating to the Red Cross isn't always the best thing. Love these very helpful tips!

  • Ashleigh

    Happy Tuesday! Thank you for hosting! Have a wonderful day!!

  • Thank you for this info. I always wonder how best to help and it's great to know.

  • Whitney Jordan

    Thank you for this information. I'm sorry your family had to go through this. I never really thought things through – the immediate needs vs. household items, the volunteer time to help clean up and rebuild, and the child care – that would be needed during this hard time. You've opened my eyes and I hope I can use your tips to be more helpful in the future.

  • Thank you we have an amazing group of co-hosts and we just love doing this linkup!

    You too!

  • Thanks for reading Sarita. I just really felt like I needed to write this post for some reason. Glad others are finding it helpful.

  • Thank you so much Whitney. We are so thankful too. Now we can help others more effectively and pass on the knowledge that we now have.

  • You are welcome. I am so glad that others are finding this info to be helpful.

  • You are welcome! Thanks Whitney it still sometimes seems completely unreal but we were so blessed through something so terrible. God is good.

  • You are so welcome. Thank you for reading!

  • Exactly. I never would have known how to really help others had I not lived it out. Now I can hopefully help others more effectively and do things like write this post….it's the little things that add up.

  • That is so awesome. What a blessing it must have been to be involved first hand blessing someone.

    YES!!!! I completely agree it is your money be VERY specific about how it is to be spent. I should have included that in my post too. They are required by law to spend it how you instruct. Which makes me curious what the local salvation army is going to do with the TONS of money they have sitting allocated for tornado relief…4 years later.

  • I love when churches have those funds ready to go. When something happens they are funded and ready to be a blessing. So wise.

  • So glad to hear that you could relate to my story. I know my story echoes the hearts of so many that have been through a tragedy. It is always good to be reminded of that.

    That is awesome I will definitely have to look them up.

    Thank you for reading!

  • Yup. It is just so easy to do and I never even realized how bad someones life was wrecked until I was wearing those shoes. The snippets don't even grasp the devastation, pain and loss… not even close.

    Friend God used something so terrible to bless the socks off of us. In the moment I felt like I was drowning and I didn't know which way was up but looking back at where we are now physically and mentally. It all makes sense. It is just the most amazingly beautiful thing.

    Thank you so much Liz.

  • Desiree @ Macke Monologues

    Such a great, passionate, informative, post!
    I particularly appreciate where you mention offering help. Designating a definite action (ie. Can I watch your kids?) is so much better than the overwhelming question of "What can I do to help?"

    We've also learned to donate to our local church in times of need/disaster rather than large organizations. I *know* our money, items, goods are going where they were intended, rather than just accumulating in a bank somewhere.

  • When I was in junior high, a co-worker of my mom house burnt down. I remember Mom cooking meals and having them over. My brothers and I played with her young children. Years later, when I was old enough to understand, the Mom told me that my Mom's hospitality meant more than anything else. That the chance to feel normal again was such a blessing, especially for her two children.

  • Sarah Frazer

    I love this so much! Thanks for sharing. 😉

  • chall1018

    Great post and tips!! My aunt and uncle lost everything in a house fire over 14 years ago and we definitely learned a lot of these, then.

  • UGH YES, I remember all of the c-r-a-p that people sent in and donated. It just made more work for the volunteers and wasn't actually helpful. blah! These are great tips that will hopefully help a family just like yours in the future!

  • This is some wonderful, kind hearted advice 🙂

  • It was ridiculous wasn't it :(. I am sure some of it was done with a good heart but…. I hope this post does exactly that. I just really felt like I needed to write it, so I did.

  • Thanks Crystal. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to watch everything burn up :(. We take what we learn and pass it along as knowledge for other hoping it helps someone someday.

  • Thanks for reading Sarah!

  • Yes! So many churches have ways of getting the funds where they will be used properly. It is beautiful and such a blessing.

    That piece of advice was what people had to do for me. With a home in shambles a toddler and a 3 month old I just couldn't think for myself :(. My hope is this advice will help someone be a blessing to others.

  • Thank you so much for reading. I really hope it helps others to be a blessing when disaster strikes.

  • Oh my gosh Stephanie you got me crying. Your moms actions were priceless to that mother. Any grasp of a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos will never be forgotten. Things like that meant the world to me too.

  • I just can't even imagine. That is my worst nightmare. My hometown had a tornado rip through 3 years ago and thankfully it missed my family's homes, but it hit several throughout the community. My mamaw had the idea to put together toiletry packs with a washcloth, toothbrush, tooth paste, a comb, and some deodorant that we made up and were able to drop off immediately.

  • It was completely surreal. That is such a sweet thoughtful idea. It really is the little things like that, that make an impact and a difference.

  • Samantha

    This is such an awesome post, especially in the wake of recent flooding in my area. Would you mind if I linked this in that post?

    • Totally! I actually just went through and reformatted it since it ended up a little wonky after my WP transition. Praying for y’all to be restored. Physically, mentally and spiritually.

  • First hand experience you have here so your empathy is what others need. With so much happening around the country weather related, this is so good to know. You are right, you never know when tragedy strikes. Thanks Beth for linking today and spreading this for many.