Monday, September 25, 2017

How Can I Help?

We find ourselves in the midst of a season where there is great need. Natural disasters that have impacted people in various parts of the country and the world expose the vulnerability of human life in the face of Mother Nature. We can debate whether these hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, and landslides are due to climate change spurred on by human behavior...but first we need to provide some form of relief for the suffering.

I didn't watch much of the news coverage the weekend when Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida, but when I was able to check in, I was heartbroken by the prospect of so much destruction. And then last week, Hurricane Maria apparently destroyed whatever was left untouched by Irma. And in the midst of those events, two massive earthquakes have hit Mexico. To imagine that level of destruction is overwhelming. Unfathomable. There are people who have lost everything--from possessions to their lives in the matter of weeks. And with more hurricanes and tropical weather patterns on the way, the worse may be yet to come.

When I first started to write this, I wanted to address the question posed by my title, which is what can the rest of us do. We are in that awkward place of wanting to offer assistance, without any specific ideas of what that might entail. Unless you work for a power company, are a construction worker, or a medical professional, there really isn't that much tangible the rest of us can do.

So we start with prayer. I am a firm believer that offering prayers in troubling times is doing something. I know that some might argue that God allowed this destruction, so why turn to Him after the fact? Well, because God is a comforter and a healer. God sent the rainbow after the great flood to remind us that He is always there. And despite all of the destruction and chaos, God is here and will restore and fortify what has been lost.

We can also give, which is the second thing we should do in the aftermath of a disaster. A monetary donation to an on-the-ground relief organization in the initial days after a disaster helps to provide immediate resources that serve the most vulnerable. Food, clothing, and shelter are our most basic needs, so giving to a reputable charity or relief organization, local or national, is always a good choice.

It has been three weeks since I started writing this, and typically my life has been so hectic that I couldn't find enough time to get back to finish this piece as I intended. And I've only gotten more ashamed after each subsequent disaster that I wasn't more focused. Despite sharing information on the Busy Black Woman FB page, my agitation has been how could I do more than just post links. Because one of the unintended consequences of not immediately giving or responding to a disaster relief is that life happens. We may have good intentions, but it is easy to get sidetracked. To get lazy. To forget. And then to do nothing...

Thus, I wanted to post some links to organizations that can provide support to all of the communities in recovery from natural disasters and have organized them into three categories: International Relief Organizations, Domestics General Aid Organizations, and Domestic Specific Need Organizations. This list is meant to offer additional and/or alternative outlets to the American Red Cross, which is typically one of the largest recipients of donations after natural disasters. Reportedly the ARC botched relief efforts in Haiti, New Jersey, Baton Rouge, and in other critical need places. I am inclined to believe that they were/are guilty of waste and abuse, primarily because they are a massive bureaucracy; yet they are nimble enough to be at minimum reliable first responders. And the criticism proves that the ARC can be audited and held accountable, which cannot be said for appeals made on Go Fund Me.

International Relief Organizations
This week I have been listening to heart-breaking dispatches from Mexico after two (and possibly three) earthquakes have hit them in the past two weeks. The same hurricanes that wrought havoc on US island territories and Florida nearly destroyed other Caribbean nations such as St. Maarten, Barbuda, and have caused major damage in Dominica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Those are just the weather events in our hemisphere, but elsewhere in the world there have been landslides in Sierra Leone and the Congo in Africa; flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh; and an earthquake in Japan. All of this happened in the last two months.

In addition to the International Red Cross/Crescent, here are a few other international disaster relief organizations:
Adventist Development and Relief Agency
Brethren Disaster Ministries - Children's Disaster Services
Catholic Relief Services
Doctors Without Borders
Episcopal Relief and Development
Oxfam America
Salvation Army International
World Vision

Domestic Relief Agencies (General/Immediate Needs)
Here are several alternatives to the American Red Cross:

Catholic Charities USA
Church World Service
Feed the Children
Habitat for Humanity 
Salvation Army USA
Volunteers of America
The Hand in Hand telethon on September 12, featured many celebrity appeals and raised $44 million that went to several organizations. There is also the One America Appeal, launched by our five living former Presidents which will funnel donations through the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library to re-distribute to various organizations.

Domestic Relief Agencies (Specific Needs)
The reason why I began writing this piece was to announce an initiative to partner with one or more diaper banks to support the specific needs of mothers with young children. I still need to work out specific details, so for now, here are some organizations on the ground in the affected localities that are working to service that particular need: 

Destiny Ministries of SW Florida (Ft. Meyers, FL)
Diaper Bank of Central Florida (Orange County, Orlando)
Miami (FL) Diaper Bank

Houston Diaper Bank 
Texas Diaper Bank
The Diaper Foundation (Houston)
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Both islands have been without clean water or electricity since Hurricane Maria swept through this past week. Efforts to provide supplies are being organized stateside:
Hispanic Federation - Donations are being collected by this organization in New York City to send to Puerto Rico.
Universal Womanhood Collective (USVI) - A nonprofit run by my Spelman classmate in Atlanta that will be collecting and shipping diapers and other personal care items to the islands.

One final statement about providing help in the aftermath of crisis. Really pay attention to the requests that are being made because the worst thing we can do is provide a lot of help that really hinders the recovery and rebuilding process. I read an article and re-posted it on FB a while back (can't find it now), but this story from a recent segment on CBS Sunday Morning on best intentions pretty much sums up what I want to emphasize. I am not one of those people who believes that any help is better than nothing (I know plenty of people who do). Some of us have too much stuff, and others worry that our meager monetary donations aren't that helpful, but the same principle of have lots of ants working together to move the mountain applies here. The telethon raised a lot of money, but not because 44 celebrities each pledged $1 million...and even if that had happened, the total cost of these disasters will far exceed what most individuals can pledge.

So, just give! To any one of the various relief organizations. In any amount that you can spare. That's how we can all help.

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