When someone goes through a disaster there are so many things going on. The person who it is directly affecting has so much to think about all at once and those who care about them only want to help. Here is a list of things to keep in mind when wanting to help someone in need. I am writing these rules from my experience from the Paradise Camp Fire, but they can be translated over other disasters such as floods or earthquakes. I am not saying by any means that I am an expert in this type of situation, but I have seen from personal experience what it is like. So no this is now that “law” of what to do, but my opinion from experience.
- The first and most important thing to remember is that the person who is suffering has so much going through their mind that first day and the devastation of what has happened has not even sunk in. Do Not ask them what they need, because honestly, they don’t even know. They have not begun to think about the future and how-to re-build or deal with what has happened. If they lost someone, or a pet, there is so much more emotions there. The best thing to do is tell them that you care about them and that you will be there for them should they need support.
- Do not tell them that it is just stuff. Yes, that is a fact that it is stuff and that as long as their families are safe that is all that matters. The reality is that the “stuff” was years of their life that they built up through hard work and every item means something. People lose photos of family members, friends, and people they have cared about that are now gone. Sometimes people lose family heirlooms. Those items cannot be replaced. Things like clothes can be replaced, but have you ever thought about the cost of replacing a whole wardrobe? Just to give you an idea about what replacing a wardrobe would cost, underwear (5 for $20 x 2 = $40), shirts ($15 each on average x 10 = $150), pants ($20 each on average x 5 = $100), and pajamas ($20 each on average x 5 = $100). The total for 10 days is $490. The prices I quoted were from Target. I personally have never thought about having to replace my essentials so in making this and looking at the numbers it really opens my eyes to what additional stress has been put on everyone who lost everything.
- Be aware when you are donating items. When donating items to people in need make sure that it is actually items they need and you are not just giving them the stuff you meant to take to Goodwill and never did. The clothing items should be in good or like new conditions. Please do not give them items with holes, rips, or stains in them. They are trying to re-build their lives so give them items that will help them be successful in life. I know we all want to help that first day and do what we can, but remember that they maybe displaces and do not have somewhere to store all the items you want to give them. As time goes on they will need to replace everything so donations of big items at that point would be good. At first the best type of donations are cash, given directly to the person you know or a GoFundMe account, or gift cards for them to use to buy the items they need. Donating food is a good thing, but you don’t know what some people dietary needs are or any restriction that they may have and that is why gift cards or cash sometimes is a better option. If you are going to donate through an organization make sure you do research to find out how much of your donation is actually going to go to the people in need, you would be surprised how many organizations only give a small percentage of the donation to the people in need.
- Be that shoulder or support system for them. Losing everything causes to so much stress. If you can be their rock or a crutch to help hold them up it will help their situation even if they don’t realize it till later. Some things that you can do to help out. If they have children offer to watch their children so the adults can do something as simple as going to dinner together, this will allow the parents to talk candidly with each other and not worry about upsetting the kids. It will also give the adults time to stop and think about the situation. Even just watching their kids so the parents don’t have to worry about entertaining the kids is huge. You can also be their point person for other family members. It is a lot to handle when everyone is calling you non-stop asking if you are ok and what you need. You can be the person who calls the rest of the family and tells them that they are safe and what they do or do not need at that time. Also if they were evacuated and don’t know if they lost everything or not and then find out that they did lose everything you can be the one to call family members and tell them as it will be too emotional for them to articulate that to others. You can be the one to set up a GoFundMe account should that be needed. If someone is missing you can be the one to put that out on Facebook to try help. Always remember that to these people their whole world is crumbling down around them in that moment. They will have thoughts going through their head like why did this happen to us, how could I have prevented this, what will I do now, and where will I live now. If they have children there concern will be about what is best for the children. Going through something devastating is a trauma and never try to play that down. It will take a good amount of time for them to ever feel safe again. It will be something that they will never forget. Imagine going to bed every night wondering if a fire will come while they were sleeping and they would not be able to get out, now you know how they are feeling. Don’t tell them to be happy or not to be sad. Their feelings are valid and you cannot fix it for them. Just be there for them.
- Be creative with how you give back. There are so many more ways for you to be able to help without having to give money or donate your items. If you are unable to help financially you can always help with your time. If it is a large scale disaster you can volunteer to help at shelters, places that are housing displaces animals and people, places that are giving out food or clothing donations. Giving your time can be just as helpful as giving money; sometimes it is even more helpful. You can help clean up after a disaster; this is also an opportunity to be there emotionally for them, because as they go through the rubble they will get emotional. Let them feel what they are feeling, but hug them and tell them they are not alone and that they are loved. If you own a business you can offer your services or skills, such as free haircuts and blowouts, veterinary skills or nursing skills for injured animals and people. If you have a spare bedroom or extra room in your home you can help by giving them a warm safe place to sleep at night. They might have lost their car so you can offer to help by driving them around to where they need to be. There are so many things that can be done that do not have to be monetary donations.
The most important thing to remember is that emotions will be high and anything can set someone off and make them sad or even mad. Never tell them that it is not ok, because it is more than ok. Everyone copes in their own way, so even someone who seems like they are ok and put together may just be feeling like they need to be strong for everyone else, but when they are alone they break down. Know that no matter what someone says, even if they say they are fine, inside they are not, hug them and let them know they are not alone. Sometimes even that simple act can mean so much.
This is a safe space to share your experiences, to vent about your situation, or to offer your advice about what you may have experienced and how people can help so please feel free to comment on this post. If you need someone to talk to or vent to and you don’t want to do it publicly reach out to me by email and I can be that person for you.
Donations for Paradise Camp Fire
If you were looking for a place to make direct donations to the people of the Paradise Camp Fire you can do that here. Please do NOT feel like you have to donate here. I only put this here because I have had people emailing asking if I was taking donations. The money collected will be given directly to families from Paradise who are in need. I am not going to donate it to a foundation, as that involves to much paperwork and time for those families when they need help now, not later.