Friday, November 2, 2012

Helping Those Impacted by Sandy Now and a Year from Now

Given the tremendous need for those impacted by Sandy, this week’s post identifies specific ways you can help. 

Having been intimately involved in my community’s emergency response and recovery from Irene, -we were an “island town” in Vermont-there are some important things to keep in mind that generally aren’t mentioned, along with all the places you can donate to and ways to help when you can’t make a cash donation.

• Recovery is going to take months or longer. Help as you can for as long as you can. Just because it does not appear in your paper’s daily headline, it doesn’t mean that needs have been met. Recognize that help comes in many different ways and at many different times.

• A lot of relief information-where to make donations, volunteers needed, fundraisers, workdays etc. is appearing on-line. If you have a particular area/community that you are interested in helping, once a site has been established, check it weekly.

• While ways to make cash donations are outlined below, be wary of newly formed organizations. People want to do something, and as well intentioned as they may be, raising money for Sandy Relief, with no designated charity-or a charity to be named-are red flags. There are plenty well established organizations that are involved or will be involved in this relief effort, so target your money where you know it will be put to work. If you have questions, use sites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator .

• Unless a town has an organized relief fund already established, don’t send checks to a town marked “for Sandy Relief.” This creates major issues on multiple levels. In the midst of dealing with FEMA and other agencies, town management doesn’t need phone calls and people coming in asking about “the money.” Figuring out how to distribute it can be the worst type of nightmare.  Instead, identify organizations within a community that are doing relief work and make donations there. These can be fire and rescue departments, community action agencies (more about these below), churches, hospitals, food pantries etc.

• Avoid using the “V” word, “victim.” At the moment, “flood victims” is being used to raise money, but over time it really doesn’t help people to think of themselves as a “victim.”  They will not continually need to be “rescued,” and not all of life problems stem from Sandy. Assuring them that they are resilient is a lot more helpful then calling them a “victim. “

• In the next week to ten days, those impacted may act in ways that look strange to the observer.  However, they are generally normal reactions to a very abnormal situation. Ultimately, the number one outcome to this sort of event is resilience. Our brains are wired for this. Long story short, unless the person is a danger to self or others, let them process as they need to.

• The week to ten days  following the event, is generally the time where neighbors and community band together. There can be an air of euphoria about this experience of everyone pitching in and helping. However, that feeling of good will is already disappearing in some areas. The hardest part is ahead.  The new reality of what you are left with sinks in. The paper work to obtain aid can be overwhelming and daunting. Putting energy, money and time is critical from this point forward. In the first 10 days following Irene, all I had to do was make one post about what we needed at the shelter, and we were swamped with donations. Six months later, when we were moving our last homeowners back in, I had to make lots of phone calls and beg for help.

• Just showing up to help, if you don’t live in the community, or have strong ties to it, can be a nightmare for those running the relief effort. If at all possible, call or e-mail ahead to see if they can use your help. Check websites to see what types of volunteers are needed. Remember, those most impacted are going to have needs for a long time, so try to volunteer when a clear need has been established. There is and will be lots of opportunities for “hands on” volunteering

•  If shelters are asking for food, bring healthy items. People can eat not knowing what they are putting in their mouths. Fresh fruit, raw veggies and nuts are much better than donuts and brownies. I now hate brownies or any baked good made from a box. If you and a group of friends, or your business, want to donate a meal for a shelter, work it out with the person in charge. Please don’t see a request for food donations as an excuse to unload your food pantry of expired items, dented cans etc.

• While we all need purpose and “to be needed,” this is about meeting the needs of those impacted, not meeting the volunteer’s “need to be needed.”

• Whether you have money to donate or not, as Hope for New York noted, as the number one thing people can do, is pray-for the safety of those in need, those providing emergency care and shelter and that all may respond with compassion and hospitality.

The most immediate needs are rescue, shelter, food, and accurate information. To help out during this phase, consider donations to the following:
• The American Red Cross can be supported in one of the following ways:
-       Going to
-       Text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation
-       Send a check to American Red Cross, PO Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013

•  Faith based relief groups
-       The Salvation Army  Text “SANDY” to 80888    to donate $10.
-       Catholic Charities 

• The Humane Society of the United States is providing animal rescue 

• Donate blood. Check for scheduled blood drive locations and make an appointment by going to or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (733-2767)

• Food Banks
-       New Jersey 
-       Connecticut Food Bank 

• Check to see if your state has set up a website about how you can help. Because Vermont was so impacted by Irene, it is not surprising that the Vermont’s Community Foundation has already set up a site called After Sandy: How Vermont Can Help Try googling your state’s name and Sandy Relief to see what you can find.

The recovery phase, which will last for months in some communities and years in others, requires a long sustained response. You can help in the following ways:
• If you have friends, family or know people that are impacted, consider doing the following:
-Send gift cards for gas, food, hardware stores, and places like Target and Walmart
-       Send notes of encouragement
-       Help with clean up, housing, child care, meals etc. as you can
-       Offer your home as a place to stay if they are displaced. Offering the opportunity to take a hot shower, have a meal in your home, watch TV, take a nap,  or do laundry can make all the difference.
-       Be their advocate as they go about trying to fill out FEMA and other grant and aid forms. This can be a very challenging process, and having someone to help you through can make all the difference. 

• Many of the communities, towns and even states will set up websites to let people know what’s needed and when. Monitor on a regular basis and help when you can.

• Community Action Agencies are local private and public non profit organizations that provide a wide array of services including housing, assistance with utility bills, home weatherization, job training, food pantries and coordinating community initiatives. These groups will be intimately involved helping people most impacted. Many will have relief efforts specifically for those impacted by Sandy. To learn more about the specific CAAs in the various communities, go to the Community Action Partnership Find a CAA website 

• Many of the fire and rescue units, particularly in the coastal and rural areas, are volunteer. They can use donations to help restock equipment and supplies, purchase items that may have been lost or destroyed during recovery operations.

• States impacted have 2.1.1 resource numbers and websites. A United Way project, you can dial 2-1-1, or use the websites  to identify community specific information and referral resources for food, housing, medical etc. If you wish to do targeted giving in a community, this is a good way to learn which organizations are in place. Many will soon start posting specific requests for donations, volunteers etc.

• Check Facebook for newly forming pages regarding a particular community.

• Organizations, such as the arts and libraries,  that don’t have an immediate impact on the relief effort, still need to be supported when they have their annual giving programs. An integral part of their communities, they are important in helping communities re establish themselves.

How to help when you can’t make a cash donation
• Organize: a fundraiser, food, clothing or furniture drive, or volunteer work party at your church,  work, among friends etc.
• If there is a particular community or group of people you want to help, set up a Lots of Helping Hands website  to help coordinate relief efforts.
• Donate blood
• If you live in one of the areas hit, volunteer as you can now through the recovery phase. There are going to be plenty of tasks-from serving food, cleaning up, to moving people into new homes.
• Offer your home as a place for those that have been displaced.
• Check the “needs” list regularly for communities that you are interested in helping and volunteer as requested when you can. 
• Become a Red Cross volunteer. Maybe not a direct benefit to Sandy, but you can help in subsequent disasters.

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