Thursday, June 2, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Top 5 Ways Not to Help People After Disasters

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

Watching the reports of flooding in the state of Texas, something seems so familiar.

Because, on a 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.

I hope you, my dear readers, never have to learn the following lessons first hand.

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.

Actually, I think a lot of times it just isn't so.  I hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but the blind don't always see after miracle surgery, the amputees don't always become Paralympic champions, and people who have struggled with the terrible impact of natural disasters don't always get back to where they were before the fire/flood/tornado hit.  And, sadly, that third thing sometimes isn't because of the disaster - but because of scum masquerading as fellow citizens.

I do know a little something about the third topic.  I've gotten to the point where I can talk about well meaning people (and the not-well meaning people and the harm (or the non-help, at best) they sometimes provide.  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 last September.

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 exactly.

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 last September.  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.

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. 

Ten months ago, the people in my neighborhood were very grateful to the volunteer firefighters, who came on 9/11 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 as I pointed out before, they may never be in the same place as they were before.

Today, in 2016,  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.


  1. And, don't expect the big agencies to (a) use your donation for what you intend [they are under no compunction to allocate it so, unless it is termed ABC Emergency Fund] or (b) to be any more reliable than an non-profit specifically formed for the disaster at hand.

    1. I knew people who had both good and bad experiences with the Red Cross. I can agree with you, but they also have the resources to be "first on the ground". Sometimes, something is better than nothing, especially when your baby (someone I knew) needs formula.

    2. When I was working for the Red Cross in Accounting, if a check came in marked "For XYZ Disaster Relief", that was what it was earmarked for and it was accounted for for that purpose and no other. Don't know if it's that way now, but it was back then.

  2. Very well said, Alana. Those are all excellent points, especially the bit about "disaster tourists." Honestly, I can't imagine what possesses people to want to gawk at other people's tragedies.

    And your warning to beware of scammers is always to the point. Unfortunately, there are truly scurrilous people who will try to make a buck on the sorrows of others. This is doubly important when choosing a charity to receive your donations. Not all charities are created equal; some are created merely to enrich their creators.

  3. I went through the 2010 flood...we had to rebuild our house. Most of the nonprofits were of no help whatsoever. Red Cross brought bottled water and that was all. The big concerts they had with country music stars raised money that they then offered as "small business loans" to people. We would have had to pay the money back. Then they used the money they made off of all of that to build a big amphitheater at Riverfront Park.

    If people want to help flood victims, go through nearby churches. Churches were there for us every day, helping rebuild, bringing us food, etc. They still came to our neighborhood two to three years later to pick up trash as a way to show support. Samaritan's Purse also showed up with brooms and mops, wearing aprons, ready to jump in and work. Even if you aren't religious, churches and religious organizations are the ones to support because they're the only ones I saw who really helped.

  4. That's a good point,going through local churches, because at least one church did do cleanup work in my neighborhood. Catholic Charities is big in our area, including running a community food warehouse. The large charities both benefited people, or didn't help. I heard stories both ways. Our benefit concerts were local musicians so I am hoping money did reach neighborhoods that needed it. I didn't want to tell the story of one local businesswoman who (using her own money) helped to feed my neighborhood because that didn't have the happiest of endings, either.

  5. A great read and it is true that sometimes outsiders do not know what to do or what to send. And yes, if you can give to local charities the chances of reaching target are best. I will not give to or take from Red Cross for lots of reasons, but I cannot say enough about Salvation Army...I actually look for and hunt down their bell ringers during the holidays to give! And I agree if you are not going to go in with tools and supplies and roll up your sleeves and get dirty the stay away!

  6. I definitely stay away from disaster areas. I don't know how to help, and I know I'd be in the way. Are people really that stupid? Yes, I suppose they are.

    1. Yes, people can be stupid beyond belief.

  7. usual in disaster I figure the professional can manage. And I would just get in the way

  8. It's sad when people exploit situations. This is an important post for those of us who might want to help. Like Dora said, professionals can manage, and we must help them, rather than trying to reach out directly to those affected.

  9. So well said. Nowadays, people lack so much common sense. You've put in a powerful manner and high time, someone did.


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