Thanksgiving is a particularly poignant this year, as many, many people in our state struggle to find things to be thankful for. They will struggle to have a thanksgiving at all, though efforts like these are food for the heart and soul:
- this grassroots organization to match people in need with people with places at the table, or
- this American Legion post throwing its doors open and feeding anyone who shows up, including linemen, national guard, whoever;
- or even Lowe's giving out thousands of pre-cooked dinners in the hardest hit areas.
It's not just today that brings on these emotions. Living around here, I am feeling them every day. We are just on the edge of the disaster, far enough that we don't see it on a regular basis, but close enough that my son goes to school with kids who lost their homes and my LSH is seeing displaced people in his practice. The stories are heart-wrenching, and they keep on coming, in wave after wave, seemingly insurmountable in their sheer volume. Much like the storm.
Help for me, in figuring out how not to feel completely powerless in the face of this unbelievable devastation, came from this blog. A lurker piped up to offer words of wisdom when I really needed them, and we have been writing back and forth as she kindly checks in on me.
Pam, who blogs at creativecrazygirl, has a particular understanding of this situation: she lost her home in the Nashville floods of 2010. She pinpointed, very accurately, part of my angst from the guilt of being spared when so many are affected. Her practical words, honed in the crucible of experience, were eye-opening and valuable. I asked her if she could guest blog (of a sort) by letting me share some of her thoughtful advice, and she graciously agreed. I am hopeful that it might help others. Her words:
I've thought of some other ideas that might make you feel better as you care for others affected by the storm. Even things that seem very simple from the outside looking in are like a big hug to a family going through this.
#1 Food. Many families will be out of their homes (and without their home kitchen) for months. Food is always greatly appreciated. We spent many, many days working at our house. It was always so amazing when someone would stop by with food. A few different times people would come to our door asking if we were hungry and offer us sandwiches (simple lunch meat), chips, bottled water, and apples or bananas. You wouldn't believe how much that would lift our spirits and help us time and money-wise because we didn't have to leave and go to the store to buy something from the deli for lunch.
#2 Money & Gift Cards. Our experience was that Red Cross money was very difficult for a family to obtain. You had to jump through lots of hoops & paperwork, wasting much time and emotional energy. Many people (some that we didn't know) gave us money and gift cards to Home Depot, Lowe's, Target, and restaurants. Some people wrote out checks and gifted us with money to help with our rebuild. It was amazing how God orchestrated His people to provide all that we needed. I'm still humbled and awed when I think of it. So if you know someone (or know of someone through your church or a friend) consider helping them directly. That's what we do now where there is a disaster. We skip donating to the big organizations and ask God to show us who to help.
#3 Creative Gifts. Anything made by your hands will be loved by those that have lost much. You might want to organize a scarf, hat, or afghan drive and give other crafty folks a place to send their gifts. I collected quilts through a quilting website that I had at the time and my church helped distribute them.
It's ok to take a bit of time on these fronts. Those hit by the storm will get a lot of attention at first, but then it dwindles. Consider helping after the media attention dies down. A friend of mine brought a yummy, hot meal to us when we were moving back in and it was such a blessing! I had never even thought about how a family actually has to move their belongings back in and get settled all over again after their home is put back together.
Before I close I want to say one more thing in an attempt to lift your guilt burden. Going through that flood ended up being the most incredible time for our family. We grew as a family and team. We felt God's presence and provision EVERY single day! Our marriage grew stronger....we became a strong united front as we pushed through together. We now have lots of great (and even funny) memories of the flood. Trust me, we never want to go through something like that again....but we know that God will see us through if we do.
I recently thought about how Jesus worked in His ministry. Most of it was one person or a small group of people at a time. We need to hold this idea close to our hearts. Instead of being distraught and hopeless that we can't help "all those people", we can rejoice that God helped us to reach out and love even one person going through a crisis like this.
Her last point caused me to relate the experience that Primo and I had in Belmar two weeks ago, because it was such a perfect example. She urged me to share it publicly, so here goes.
Primo and I went expecting that we would be distributing donations, as the posting had specified. It didn't work out that way, but we went with the flow and ended up being assigned to a team to canvass the beachfront neighborhoods. We were equipped with official-looking clipboards and paperwork, assigned to determine what the residents needed (because the donations were piling up) and tell them where they could vote the following day.
We had to trek about 10 blocks to get to our assigned street. Not too many people were there, but we found one older woman by herself and freezing in her non-heated, no electricity condo. Primo helped her clean out her refrigerator and haul the spoiled food to the curb. She was clearly hungry for companionship, and we spent some time talking to her about her experiences and difficulties thus far. She was very resistant to our offers of help, but mentioned that the one thing she really wanted was hot coffee. Of course, that was not on our official list.
When our task was complete, we hiked back to the command post and were told our job was done. We couldn't leave it at that. They were serving hot food, so we picked up a clamshell of food and assortment of snacks. We found a little deli that, miraculously, was open and had somehow figured out a way to serve hot coffee without any electricity in the store. The entire town was without power at this point. Even the command post was operating on generator power. But this one little store had piping hot coffee in push-button carafes.
We walked the food and coffee back to her, carefully wrapping the coffee in a glove and trying not to spill too much on the way. She was surprised to see us, but definitely grateful for the coffee! As we trekked back, I remarked to Primo that we hadn't really gotten the opportunity to do that much. He pointed out that it was probably a lot for that one person.
After reading this story, Pam responded that she was pretty sure that God made the coffee! Reflecting upon the whole experience, I must say: I think she's right.