So you are heading to AL to help with the horrendous devastation that has occurred in our state in the April 27 2011 tornadoes. I think that is wonderful that you thinking about doing this. I think it is wonderful that you are in fact planning on doing so. However, there are a few things you need to know before you load up your van and bring your youth group with you to descend on Alabama.
First, most municipalities and counties are requiring that you register with them before you are allowed to volunteer. This is for your protection and to protect the victims of these tornadoes. We need to know what skills you are bringing so we can place you where the need is greatest. And we also need to be able to tell you, thank you very much but your skills are not needed at this moment in time. Perhaps later or perhaps you were too late in offering but we need to be able to tell you this before your arrival not after you are here.
I received a phone call from a rather frustrated minister from a progressive Christian church in the Midwest. He wants to come down Memorial Day weekend with his teens and other able bodied folks and spend a week. He was turned away by Samaritan’s Purse because they required a doctrinal faith agreement statement for volunteers. His is a liberal church and he has members who are gay who would not be allowed to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse. Hey, it might be ethically wrong but it is their organization and their rules.
He was turned away by the Methodists for the same reason. And he was told by the Disciples of Christ that they won’t be organizing their efforts until later in the summer when they expect their services will be needed. This minister did not understand how we could be so unwilling to pitch in and help immediately. He gave me quite the lecture on what I was doing wrong in my ministry by not establishing a mission center to aid in the efforts.
He wanted me to house them at our congregation. It might have been possible for us to do that but before I would answer that request, I asked what were they going to do? His group was going to come in with chainsaws and remove trees from houses to enable electricity to be restored and get people back into their houses. He stated he thought his congregation could get 50 houses to be able to reconnect to electricity and water within a week. I told him based on the information I had, the houses that were livable were reconnected to power. He did not believe me. When I told him the people who were displaced had no homes to go back to; he became irate with me. How could I be so cold as to refuse to help people in need? I wasn’t being cold hearted. The services he was providing was no longer of service to Tuscaloosa. Every house that was livable has power and water restored to it.
He did not want to register with the city to volunteer. He did not want to call the American Red Cross to find out if other communities in Alabama could still use his congregation’s specific services. I doubted this was a huge need as the last update I heard was that all homes that were livable had power restored to it in the state but since my attention has been on Tuscaloosa I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and have him call.
Second, we are busy trying to get the 13K displaced people in Tuscaloosa into temporary housing. Some are currently staying in hotels, some are starting to receive FEMA trailers, and some are staying with friends and relatives, some are still in emergency shelters, and some are staying in churches. So just where do you think you are going to be staying?
Have a plan in place before you come. Finding a hotel available might be difficult. And staying at a congregation that is also dealing with many of their members still reeling from the trauma of losing everything they own, might not be the best solution. It places an additional burden on the congregation to not only care for their own members but now they have to care for you too. Just be considerate in your ask and be willing to reduce the burden of hospitality.
Third, one of the things that I have learned in this crisis is that needs change very quickly. What is needed today might not be needed tomorrow or even next week.
Remember, my minister friend who wanted to come down with chainsaws. That sort of help was needed one, two, three, and four days AFTER the tornado. Tarps were also once a big need. But chainsaws and tarps are no longer the urgent need. Then suddenly the need that was on everyone’s radar was clothes, new underwear, diapers, formula, shelters for pets, those lost and displaced and those who couldn’t stay with their owners, pet food.
Today the needs that are being posted and I have included the links in case you are seriously interested are the following:
Tuscaloosa City Schools needs large plastic bins, boxes, and crates with lids. Persons interested in making donations should contact the School Supply Center at 205-759-8300 or the Central Office at 205-759-3700. Monetary contributions may be made online or by calling the Central Office at 205-759-3700.
Temporary Emergency Services this morning was looking for 8-10 long-term volunteers to help us cook and distribute food to needy areas, based at our Northport location (5510 McFarland Blvd, in Northport). Do you like to cook? Do you want to help, and have some time to donate today, and over the next couple of weeks/months? Give us a call at 205 758-5535, or show up at our Northport location today. Thanks!
Temporary Emergency Services on 1705 15th Street Tuscaloosa, AL is in desperate need of cleaning supplies.
Soma of Christ Church needs: toilet paper, paper towels, Diapers (NB, 4 6 sizes), Pull-Ups, 1st Aid Kits, new underwear, flashlights, batteries, non-electric can openers, canned meat, noodles, rice, crackers, canned corn / tomatoes / tomato sauce, oatmeal, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. 212 44th CT NE Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 Call: (205) 553-2877
Board of Education in Hackleburg: Currently they have a need for plastic totes to store things. They are assessing everything else and will let us know what needs are. So, if you want to help kids in Hackleburg…totes are needed.
These are the needs that are being posted today on the Facebook page Tuscaloosa Tornado Donations. The two school districts had several schools that were destroyed in the tornadoes. Tomorrow this list will change and some new and urgent need will arise. Another Facebook page with community needs for Tuscaloosa is Rebuild Tuscaloosa.
We are not yet in the rebuilding mode yet. Debris from destroyed homes and businesses still need to be removed before new homes and businesses can be built. This means that Habitat for Humanity and other home building charities are not yet ready for volunteers to build new houses for families. That need will come but not today and probably not next month either. So if that is what your group wants to offer, wait. Raise some money to cover your expenses. Raise some money to donate to one of the many funds that have been established to help in rebuilding.
So again some simple advice before packing the van with supplies and volunteers please do the following:
1) Call the American Red Cross or United Way of Western Alabama and find out what the current needs are for volunteers in Alabama. Perhaps what you are willing to offer is not yet needed or may never be needed. This will help in your planning and save you the aggravation of showing up and feeling dumb for not asking first.
2) Register your volunteers in the community where you are headed. This might be with the city or it might with a county. We want you to be placed where the need is the greatest. If you want to volunteer in Tuscaloosa here is an online form to register. More information is located here.
3) Be considerate of your hosts. If a congregation is willing to put you up in their building, don’t expect them to wait hand and foot to your needs. They are already trying to help their members to cope in the loss and grief they are experiencing.
4) Don’t become belligerent with the people you are offering to help. We may have lost our community but we still know our needs. We are living with this daily. You are the outsider looking in. We do not need self-appointed saviors to swoop in and save us. We have capable leaders who are mapping out the steps of what needs to be done today and what can wait for tomorrow, or even next month. Allow us to take the lead in this. This is our home.