Thursday, May 26, 2011

Outpouring of support welcomed, sometimes warned against

Millions of Americans watched towns in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and even Minnesota be hit and destroyed by tornadoes this week.

As we see children and families suffering on TV and in news, the first thing many of us did was donate money, gather clothing and give some non-perishable cans of food to organizers in our towns and cities. The word from places like Joplin is this: please don’t “self-deploy” as the city’s shattered emergency management can’t handle what they are calling “freelance relief efforts.”

Still, many workplaces, churches and clubs have organized and gathered food, clothes, water and other supplies for victims of the tornadoes.

Most of these grassroots help groups know that unsolicited donated goods force the first response agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to deal with the donations. They know how to quietly go about the relief efforts without getting in the way.

Some, including many truckers and OOIDA members, have begun those relief efforts.

We’ve been able to share some information about these efforts in Land Line Magazine’s Facebook page.

Knowing how disaster relief efforts go is something I wish I’d known back in 2005.

In September 2005, I traveled to Louisiana with a group of individuals who had had enough of the gut-wrenching images and the warnings to stay away.

They used time during a local call-in radio show to organize some resources gathering, and hit the road the week after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and so many other areas near the gulf.

Renting a large box truck and loading up two additional pickups, the group hit the road in Northwest Arkansas and drove all night along the Mississippi river, making it to Baton Rouge the next morning.

The group collected several hundred dollars from truck drivers they ran into along the way.

After spending hours waiting outside the Louisiana State University football stadium to drop off the truckload of supplies, they were told to leave.

There was no room for their supplies.

After stewing and making calls for a few more hours, Jimmy, the informal group’s leader found one charity willing to take the pallets of Gatorade, water, food, baby supplies and cash.

The building didn’t look like much of a church.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Jimmy told me. “I feel wrong about this. But I don’t know what else to do.”

The help is needed. You are right to want to help. But getting in your truck, car or other vehicle may not produce the result you’re envisioning.

If you haven’t made contact with a person or church that has given the go-ahead, consider giving that bag of food or fistful of cash to a local charity.

Another option: While Joplin seems to be all you hear about in the mainstream media, there are many, many other areas around the country in need of assistance as well. Perhaps you could offer assistance to Reading, KS; Sedalia, MO; Minneapolis, MN; Oklahoma City, OK; Birmingham, AL … you get the idea. I’m certain that if you get in touch with the right group in any area your goodwill and kindness will be appreciated.

Don’t let impatience or the too often unpredictable world of crisis management hamper your efforts to help. Just make sure you are well connected, with a solid plan – in writing doesn’t hurt – before you take off. Being unprepared could be the one thing that prevents you from helping those in need.