How to Help When You Feel Like You Don’t Know What to Do
It’s been just at two weeks since I had to determine what was sacred, pack it into two not-so-big vehicles, and listen to my cats’ meowing for almost 3 freakin’ hours after we were told by Governor Northam we were under mandatory evacuation due to the impending Hurricane Florence. We fled to family, and they were there to receive us with open arms…which was great because we had a ton of s$&! to unpack from the cars. To have that stress of evacuation, as a parent to pets and child (pets were first, sorry kiddo), was something that I hadn’t experienced since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, exactly 15 years ago as of September 18th.
Isabel was an experience, but nothing compared to Florence. During Isabel, I was in college, living on campus, no kids or pets, and very little of import except myself, and if you’d have asked me back then, my music collection. I ended up having to evacuate to my then-boyfriend’s home about 20 minutes from campus, and a place that would still having running, hot water if the power went out…which it absolutely did. My parents pleaded with me to go to their home, but they live in the boonies and well, if the phrase “if it’s yellow, let is mellow” means anything to you, then you understand why I chose to ride out the storm closer to impact. Anyway, power was out for a long time (10-14 days), and I was able to return to my life on campus within the week.
We dodged a missile with Florence, even if we hadn’t evacuated. Hampton Roads, more specifically Portsmouth, floods. Even when it’s just sustained rain over the course of a day. My office location is at the intersection of one of the lowest points in Olde Towne. Yes, I did get stuck in flooding once, and had to drive on a sidewalk to get home (don’t tell anyone!). Floods are scary, and if you don’t follow “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, you are absolutely asking for harm to come to you. We were lucky.
New Bern, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, NC and South Carolina areas were not. Sure, they have televisions and internet, and saw the hysteria that some think meteorologists and news reporters over exaggerate to get people to tune in (it’s not UNtrue…), but chose to ride out the storm, the cowboys of the south, having weathered numerous storms over many decades. Florence wasn’t too different, except for her size (she was a big ole gal) and her speed (turtle-pace). She dumped feet of rain in a relatively short time period, adding to rain that had accumulated prior to her arrival. These folks should have left, but I also understand you care about your things more than other people do, and if it all is destroyed, at least you “did what you could” till the end. I get it.
I had family evacuate with Katrina. I saw the destruction that storm had, and the thousand-plus of people who perished, and thousands who were on the roofs of their homes, or in the attics that had to be rescued. Water is not something to play around with. Folks who were unprepared, either due to proximity to supportive family/friends, fear, resources, or complacence, paid the ultimate price. I know I have felt hopeless in the wake of such storms, as I don’t have a lot of expendable income, or I’m not close to the areas impacted, or (so many “ors”) that I feel like I’m unable to make an impact. I wanted to share some tangible tasks or places to send resources (money and items) so that you feel less stuck and hopeless.
American Red Cross – This organization was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, and was tasked with assisting military personnel and civilians in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters, in the United States and beyond. I have a friend from high school who is the communications director of a regional office in Virginia, and am so proud to see him make a difference during times of stress by providing essential information to keep folks safe, or to guide them on how to access help in their time of need. (Shout out to Jonathan McNamara!) If you decide to donate items, money, or blood, these donations GREATLY impact their organized ability to move donations and connect with folks on the ground. They are the preeminent organization, that actually is organized, and provides needed assistance to so many folks. Please consider donating to them, and specifying it for Hurricane Florence relief. 90% of the folks affiliated with Red Cross assistance are volunteers, so you can also decide to use yourselves as a means of helping, if your lifestyle allows for it!
Carolina Cavalry – This grassroots organization was recently formed and is tasking itself with accepting donations and assisting those in the Eastern NC and South Carolina areas. They were inspired by the Cajun Navy, who formed in response to the need after Hurricane Katrina. They have set up a GoFundMe page, and also have a Facebook page. You may desire to donate the items you purchased (like bottled water, nonperishable food items) to this or other local organizations for distribution. Just make sure items are new, unopened, and not expired. Only donate what is being requested, as it can be more burdensome than helpful if you donate things that can’t be used.
Disaster Mental Health Volunteers – The ACA, and other health and mental health organizations assist with publicizing the need for trained volunteers to provide disaster mental health services to civilians, first responders, and other community members due to the continuous stream of need that arises during a crisis. Vicarious trauma can occur with seeing injuries, destruction, and death first-hand, and this aid is often overlooked because of the various physical needs that are also immediate in nature.
If you are able to provide your specialized services via volunteering to help with mental health and physical health needs, please consider paying it forward.
Be Fred Rogers – Check on your own neighbors…not just in times of need, but as a general course of humanity. Carl Rogers (I believe, no relation, but are of similar mentality) was the founder of Person-Centered Therapy or Humanistic Therapy, and both Rogers’ focus on the person; not what they can do or how you can elicit talents for your own good, but really what value a person has as being themselves. Embody this sense of genuine and unconditional positive regard in being a good neighbor, and reaching out to your neighbors. You never know whose lives you’ll change.
STEP AWAY FROM YOUR TV – As with any disaster, act of violence/terrorism, or anniversaries of such, give yourself permission to disconnect from the media if it gets to be too much. When will you know? When you can’t step away from the television, or you suddenly become downtrodden and this mood affects others. It really is needed to recenter yourself so that you can be your own neighborhood activist again, however that suits you. In our society, media is EVERYWHERE, and it is commonplace to use all forms, so please do yourself a favor and say, not today! Today I’m unplugging!
Self-care – Blah, blah, blah, right? But it’s so important! As with above, once you know you need it, you needed it weeks ago. Self-care takes many forms, but in its essence, it is something that we can engage in that helps us disengage, but in a healthy way, and once we complete the activity, we feel better in our ability to engage with our worlds again. It can be sleep, exercise, nourishing food, music, dancing, mani/pedis, reading, card games, whatever, as long as it’s something that can help you disconnect from the other stressors in your life, even for 10-15 minutes. Yes, if you are not practiced in doing so, you may feel guilty (What’s up MOMS?), but as you practice more readily or frequently, the guilt will melt because you will begin to recognize the importance of it, and how other things tend to go smoother in your life because you are ready to meet the challenge.
I am reminded of a lovely quote from Cruz Ramirez (Disney Pixar’s Cars 3): “Get ready to meet it, beat it, and defeat it!” Take care of people by meeting the challenge of their needs, organize or work with an organization already tasks with this need, and make the need nonexistent because of your contribution to a great goal of helping those who need it most.
Small acts add up to giant help.