We saw blue sky peek through around 6pm yesterday for the first time in days, and I think our whole city cheered. Even as harrowing rescue efforts continued and shelters filled, we had a moment of hope and a chance to smile at something. We needed that bit of sunshine so much.
The whole Texas coast is going to need hopeful moments to help us push through the Harvey and Houston flood disasters, but we’re also going to need help. Some, like our family, have been spared the worst of it, and we are profoundly grateful. We now have an opportunity to help others, and we are being joined by so many of you from all over the world who want to help, too. It’s encouraging.
However, I’ve noticed that not all types of “helping” are encouraging or even useful—I’ll list a few actions later that are extremely needed, but first, here are three things that we could use your help in stopping:
- Outside armchair quarterbacking and social media “outrage” over whether things are being done the way you would’ve done them. There will be time for analysis, but please calm the heck down for a few more days. In fact, why don’t you set up the equivalent of a swear jar on your kitchen counter—you remember the swear jar, don’t you? You deposit a dollar every time you cuss? This week, every time you feel like lighting up social media with your five-point critique of how we’re handling evacuations, etc, why don’t you put five bucks in the jar and then donate that money at the end of the week? We’ll thank you for your generosity, and we’ll all be in a better frame of mind to discuss what could be improved after the worst has passed.
- Spreading unverified “helpful” information. There is a load of bad information and rumors being circulated about immigrants being harassed for papers at shelters (totally false), bogus phone numbers to call for help, and even sighting of sharks swimming down the freeway. Please take a second. Check the local news and emergency response officials before you send it out. I guarantee that if you have time to retweet something, you have time to do a quick Google search to verify it.
- Bagging up old, ratty clothes or expired food to donate. If you live close enough to donate physical goods, then absolutely, go through your house or head to the store for specifically requested items. I’ve seen and sorted the things that end up at donation drops, and I’m not sure what some folks were thinking. How can I put this delicately? Nobody needs skid-marked underwear, sweat-stained pillows, or cans of frosting that expired last year. Those are called trash, not donations. Even items in good condition may be more of a hindrance than a help right now. Agencies and shelters are very specific about what they need so that they can best care for the people they serve, and they usually post this information. Right after a disaster, displaced families do not need bulky stuffed animals, books, furniture, or even a whole lot of clothes. Showing up at shelters to drop off such things creates more work for volunteers and a storage nightmare. Hold onto non-requested items for later as people start to rebuild. Instead, grab the list of items requested and get to work.
OK, enough of that. We are thankful that you are motivated to care and to help, so here are three things we need you to start doing if you haven’t already:
- Dig into your wallets and donate to those that are doing the hard work. At minimum, give to an organization like Samaritan’s Purse who brings trained teams into hard-hit areas. If you want more tangibility to your gift—to see your dollars in action so to speak—text your friends in the region and ask them who they recommend. For instance, here are some of my favorite groups that actively serve our community 365 days a year and are being stretched to the limit by this disaster: bridgingfortomorrow.org, Houstonfoodbank.org, missionofyahweh.org, generationone.net, Faithbridge.org
- Prepare for the long haul. Things like Harvey and the Houston flood provide opportunities for you to help for weeks, months, and years to come. Begin to check with your church about how you can be prepared to help when it’s time for restoration. This may even be your chance to step out and lead a team! Have your pastor or missions coordinator reach out to their Texas counterparts to let them know you will be ready. Check with organizations like Samaritan’s Purse. There may be some immediate opportunities, but never underestimate the usefulness of building a well-prepared, well-trained team that is willing to partner over the long term with groups that are already in place.
- Minister to people’s spiritual needs. Pray! And not just a hurried whisper to the heavens or a repost of a beautifully written prayer. While those are important, your friends in the area would love for you to reach out and ask specifically what you can pray with them about that day. Be willing to listen to those going through this disaster. They need to talk to someone who will patiently listen without offering a million suggestions or nice “reminders” about how they should be more grateful for what they didn’t lose. There will be time to help people gain perspective, but unless they have the freedom to process grief and confusion, that next step will be delayed.
I am grateful for the outpouring of love, support, and hard work I’m seeing all around me. Good-hearted people everywhere are simply rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. (I especially love when I see a news crew put down their microphones and actually help people into boats. Remember, if the news team can arrive there, then just off camera, there are a dozen first-responders and volunteers working really hard.) Pray for the folks on the front line as well as those they are helping. And thank you for caring about Texas. God bless you.