Lately there have been some disasters in my area. Tornadoes in Granbury and Oklahoma, the explosion in West, TX…and after each of these, I get emails from people in my church wanting to respond. I also get emails from the many different organizations I work with asking for a monetary response but nothing more.
People in disaster areas often experience an outpouring of items and volunteers that is a deluge and difficult to process when already undergoing emergency situations and grief. What the organizations trained to help often need IS money. But money does not feel like a meaningful response. And I am left in an odd position. My job is to help people enter into service they are passionate about but I’m often telling people that their ideas for items to give are not what is needed and really what they should give are prayers and, if they can, a monetary donation. I often feel like I’m killing their passionate response to help.
I’ve found myself thinking about an article, “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” from the LA Times. It was about helping people experiencing grief and it was going around on Facebook a few months ago. It was a theory about “comforting in and dumping out”. The writers Susan Silk and Barry Goldman were specifically talking about to whom you can whine, cry out, and complain and when you should simply offer comfort. They drew rings and asked the person to identify where they were on the drawing. The theory was you should always comfort those closest to the center and dump out to those beyond you. I think this works in the case of appropriate response to disaster too.
If you are in the city, experiencing the disaster, you often know best what is needed–especially if you work for an organization dedicated to disaster response. The further you radiate away, the less you know, unless you are receiving direct information from a person or organization inside the disaster area. And if we are outside I’m thinking our response really should be to comfort in with prayer and listening, and all the energy we want to dump into doing should go out. Perhaps to our own communities?
Every community needs people trained in disaster response. You could attend or create a training. Every community has kids in need of books, toys, stuffed animals, and advocates. Take your energy for the children in an area far from you and put it toward the children in your vicinity. Every community has families experiencing homelessness, tragedy, and injury. Perhaps you could donate time or items to the places hurting in your neighborhood? And while you are doing that, comfort in. Pray for the people of Moore, Granbury, or West. Listen to the news coming from there. And wait until you know how best to respond. That takes time. Often folks from the “outside” are not invited in to respond with items and hard labor until months after the disaster. By then most communities are begging for people to “dump in” all that energy but our focus has already shifted. By continuing to comfort in, we will be ready to respond when asked.
What do you think?
Here’s that ring theory picture: