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Let me help you help them

Let me help you help them
As donations pour in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the east coast braces for Hurricane Irma, Andrea from Cheer Energy reflects on the 2016 Louisiana floods and the best way to help those in need.

When a disaster strikes, we all want to pitch in and help our neighbors get through the devastation. But before you have a teddy bear round up or a clothing drive, first consider what those affected are going through and how best you can truly help. The last thing anyone wants is to add to their burden and cause them more stress and work.

If it’s a single-family you want to help, knowing their specific needs goes a long way in supplying them with aid and recovery. Find out their sizes and what items, in particular, they may be in need of most. If it’s everything, then setting up a benefit to raise money would probably be in their best interest.

If they’ve lost their home, remember that they won’t have a place to store many things. A single, medium-sized box filled with essentials: one outfit per family member, toiletries, shoes, underwear, gift cards and notes of encouragement is a blessing. Just be careful not to overburden them with too much stuff. When you’re living in a tent, camper or hotel room, space is limited.

If it’s an entire community you are looking to help, then there are 3 main things that are desperately needed:

MONEY: GIFT CARDS ARE GOLD!

Whether it’s a generic debit-style card with one lump sum collected by your group for a single family or if it’s a collection of cards to be distributed amongst multiple families, these are some of the most precious commodities that can be sent. They don’t take up a lot of space, they can be used anywhere and they provide a much-needed resource in a dire situation. ANY gift card is great! Money cards, food cards, store cards- they’ll all be used. Yes, even the movie cards. People need to feel human again after days spent cleaning up and a night at the movies is a welcome break from the never-ending recovery efforts.

TIME: PITCH IN!

Anything that will help with the tedious process of recovery goes a long way. Organize a group to spend a day or two sweeping, hauling off, ripping out and general clean up. Rolling up your sleeves and doing work will help your neighbors more than anything else. Teams of teenagers were the biggest sort of mobile help to the Denham Springs, LA community after the flood of 2016. They’re young, eager to help and looking for something positive to do so help them engage!

Recovery from natural disasters that affects large communities takes months and years. Often, help comes during and immediately after but then drops off almost instantly. If you want to take your time and send help later, it will come when things are still bleak for those affected and help is hard to find. Timing is appreciated!

FOOD: PREPARE QUICK MEALS FOR THOSE HELPING AND IN NEED

An afternoon of making sandwiches and distributing them with chips and water around an impacted neighborhood is so much more appreciated than a box of old t-shirts being dumped at the door of the church. Be sure to organize your group if you’ll be traveling so you look official and don’t appear to be stalking homes. Looting is a very real threat to communities devastated by a natural disaster and you don’t want to appear as a threat when trying to help.

If you want to donate items, make sure they’re items that people need. This is not the time to empty that bag you’ve been meaning to take to goodwill. Small toiletries, blankets, towels, non-perishable food items, air matresses, and sheets will be welcomed at refuge centers and churches. And of course, our furry friends at animals shelters will need food, care, and blankets as well.


What about the gyms?

Cheer gyms that survived the original catastrophe are often affected more by the aftermath. Having absences because of displaced athletes can disrupt practices. Sometimes they have to drive much farther than normal or their parents are too busy dealing with the recovery process to bring them to the gym.

Organizing carpools, collecting gas cards and helping them to recover cheer related items, like destroyed uniforms and practice wear, backpacks and shoes, can help them feel like life is returning to normal even when it’s not. Gyms have to be prepared to lose their athletes for an entire season due to displacement, financial loss or other disaster-related circumstances.

Cheer gyms that were directly impacted by the disaster will be in need of gym equipment like flooring, mats, lobby chairs, sound systems, and more. Cleaning up and clearing out while simultaneously making insurance claims and filing paperwork is a tedious process. Especially if the gym owners and coaches homes were also impacted. Pitching in to clean up, organizing an equipment drive, locating clean facilities for practice or other disaster relief efforts are always greatly appreciated.

Authors note: Do your research before donating to big/brand name disaster relief organizations. There is one, in particular, that was NOT helpful to the Denham Springs community and they made quite a bit of money off the disaster for a very minimal amount of help. Charity Navigator is a great place to do a quick search on the charity of your choice, and see how much goes straight to those in need.

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