Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Top Five Ways Not To Help People After Disasters

This is a repeat of a post from July 2012, with some editing.

Watching the reports of flooding in the state of Texas, something seems so familiar.  The post-Harvey flooding is epic.  So historic.  Thousands and thousands, including a handful of my Facebook friends, affected.  So why does it seem so familiar?
Because, on a smaller scale (a MUCH smaller scale), it happened to my part of upstate New York in August and September of 2011.  It seems like natural disasters strike almost every week, all around the world.  The fickle finger of fate has now landed on Houston, Texas.

Houston has been in my thoughts.  Three of my cousins were born in College Station, Texas and one of them lived in Texas for many years.
I hope you, my dear readers, never have to learn the lessons of disasters first hand the way the residents of Houston are learning.  But I suspect more and more of us will, in the coming days and months.

My post from 2012:
There's a huge market, isn't there, for the "everything was horrible but I/my city/my country overcame, and now everything is hunky-dory" story.

Except, sometimes it just isn't so.

Disasters bring out the best in us but, too often, it also brings out the worst.

What I am about to say may not be popular but it is what I have learned out of the truths of what my neighborhood, my town, my area, went through during a natural disaster in September of 2011.  So again, this is just my personal experience and opinion.

We have been conditioned to think that it is so easy to help those in need.  Just text '12345' (or whatever) and presto, you have helped!

Not necessarily.

But, dear reader, there are other ways you CAN help.  I compiled this list not that long after the flood that hit my area of upstate New York  in September (of 2011).  I don't want to presume, but I have a feeling this may be of help to others who truly want to help, but don't know how. They feel they have to do SOMETHING.  It does need to be the right "something".

5.  Don't come out to see us.  No, really, don't.  First, we aren't animals in a zoo, to be stared at.  Please, give us space.  At first we are in shock but then that shock wears off - and really, we don't want you to see our tears, or some of the things we do that may seem bizarre to some, but actually make sense in context.  If you aren't an emergency worker or with a charity that knows what it is doing, STAY HOME.

4.  Don't take pictures of us.  We aren't one of those commercials where charities use pictures of sad, beaten dogs or starving children to get your sympathy and your dollars.  I got so upset at a cousin (at a family event, no less) a couple of months ago when he told me how he wasn't impacted by the flood but he had gone around and taken pictures where his city did flood.  No Kodak moments, please.  Not unless you are a journalist or a historian.

3.  Don't send clothes.  Well, sometimes we do need clothes but not the clothes that get sent so many times - clothes full of stains, holes, and rips.  If you wouldn't wear it, don't send it.

So many people sent clothes after the flood, and charities were overwhelmed with them.

2.  Don't trash our neighborhood.  We aren't your garbage dump, either.  If you carry in cigarettes, coffee, and sandwiches, please take out what they came in.   Respect us.

1.  Don't call us victims.  We are not victims!  And while I am on the topic of victimization, I hope there is a special place in hell for those who went to charities for help that they didn't need (and literally took food out of the mouths of those who needed it).  Or the "contractors" who showed up, but were really scam artists. 

After our disaster, the people in my neighborhood were very grateful to the volunteer firefighters, who came on September 11, 2011 to pump out basements, the Salvation Army, who served meals, and the many people who did really help: who showed up out of nowhere and started to help with the filthiest of chores or to set up tents and serve meals.  More times than you would think they had been impacted themselves.  Or, they found their workplace closed and just decided to see where nearby the need was greatest.

THAT was true help.  It will not be forgotten.  For many, the road back is long, and they may never be in the same place as they were before.

Today, in 2017,  I would add one other item:  a donation to a major organization experienced in disaster relief might be an excellent way to help, if you are moved by the TV stories.  I will never forget how some of my neighbors depended on the Salvation Army for meals.  Or the Red Cross for infant formula.  The relief organizations need money to operate, and have resources to use donations to buy the goods that are truly needed.  There are many excellent local organizations, too, but you have to do research to find them.  Be careful of scammers!

Just don't exploit us in our hour, day, or year of need. I suspect that is what someone impacted by any disaster would say.

If you have anything to add through your expertise or experience, I welcome your comments.


  1. Hurricane Sandy is on my mind ... I have a friend whose house still has not been rebuilt...

    Our company has a huge office in Houston. I am concerned about colleagues and coworkers.

  2. If you can't come to help, find out where your money will forward the most goof

  3. You're right, of course. There are ways to help that are practical and truly make an impact. We need to make sure those are the avenues we take.

  4. Five very excellent points. They were true in 2012 and still true today - especially the part about don't come see us (unless you are one of our wonderful volunteers from all over the country who are here to help). The last thing we need right now is more people!

  5. I was reading someplace that it's better to give money than to send items. While things like bottled water are needed, it's harder to transport. It's easier for relief organizations to buy the stuff they need locally (and it helps the local economy to buy locally). Something I hadn't considered, but it makes so much sense.

  6. This is so very true, regardless of the disaster and it's location, this is very fitting and I will share with others.

  7. Thank you for your very helpful points. All of us in Houston are so grateful for everyone's generosity. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

  8. I have shared this on my facebook page. Grateful!

  9. Mumbai in India is facing the same this year what Houston is going through, both cities at the same time. Your points in this post were kind of eye-opener for me.

  10. Shared this on Facebook. Great advice. I'll be making a couple of donations this week, but not of ratty old clothes.

  11. Fantastic post and wonderful information!


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