By Susan Kim*
November 1, 2012—After viewing news segments and photos of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, many people are compelled to act—quickly. Below, UMCOR has fielded your most often-asked questions about the best ways to help. We hope the answers—gathered directly from those responding right now to the needs of hurricane survivors—will guide your decisions on how you will reach out.
Q: “Those people in New Jersey look so desperate. Can't I just jump in my car, drive there, and help them?”
A: It's best to wait unless you've already received training or have been deployed by a specific organization. Why? Because hurricane-damaged local churches and communities don't have the capacity to host you right now—and they feel badly when they can't, said Catherine Earl, UMCOR executive for US Disaster Response.
“Churches are serving as shelters for hurricane survivors, but the volunteers coming in from out of town need a place to stay, too,” she said.
On Thursday, disaster responders took time away from caring for survivors to gently turn away a busload of junior high school students who had been sent to New Jersey from out of state with inadequate plans for where to stay or how to help.
It's not safe for anyone to go hiking around in floodwater, Earl explained. “A lot of these communities are in urban areas. People are well-meaning, but it's just not safe right now.”
Q: “I saw people in New York who just lost everything. I have a lot of clothing I don't even wear. Should I send it?”
A: Clothing is commonly known as “the second disaster.” It collects on church pews, curbsides, and warehouses, where it takes up the time of volunteers and responders who have to organize it and, often, ship it somewhere else. “A well-meaning group in Ohio has already collected a tractor trailer-load full of clothing and attempted to deliver it to Long Island,” said Greg Forrester, Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the Northeast Jurisdiction. “Needless to say, we are stopping these shipments before they start.”
Another suddenly popular idea that's well-meaning but probably not the best form of help? Sending loads of leftover Halloween candy to young hurricane survivors. “Nothing should be donated that hasn't been specifically requested,” said Forrester.
Q: “Well, then, what should I do?”
A: We're glad you asked.
* Give money. A donation to UMCOR (see the information below) is the best way to get help quickly into the hands of hurricane survivors. Their needs are changing quickly, and purchasing what they need helps boost local economies that have been devastated by the storm.
* Assemble or purchase health kits. “Cleaning buckets are going quickly,” said Kathy Kraiza, UMCOR's executive director of Relief Supplies. “We started this process on Monday with 18,930 buckets in the network. To date, 7,300 are either delivered or being delivered. I believe we will go through all that we have on hand at least by Thanksgiving if not by the end of next week,” she said.
* Keep your passion for volunteering. Put it on your calendar and volunteer six months from now, suggested Forrester. “I would estimate that's when we will really be desperate for teams to come in.”
* Get trained and prepared. Get your church involved in UMCOR's “Connecting Neighbors” training. Learn more about UMCOR's Early Response or CARE teams. Find an outlet that best suits your talents—and respond as part of a team that is trained, ready, and a real help to survivors.
Respond quickly, appropriately, and passionately. Donate to UMCOR US Disaster Response, Hurricanes 2012, Advance #3021787. You can also text the word RESPONSE to 80888 to give an immediate $10 donation.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.