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Harris Blackwood: Hurricane victims need real help, not our discarded clothes
09232018 FLORENCE SC
A sign commemorating the rebuilding of the town of Nichols, which was flooded two years earlier from Hurricane Matthew, stands in floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Nichols, S.C., Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Virtually the entire town is once again flooded and inaccessible except by boat. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood
The rains may have come to an end, but it will be a long time before things return to normal in the Carolinas. 

But before you go and load up some unused clothing and pack your chain saw to go help, think again.

There is that old axiom that we want to give our hurting neighbors “the shirt off our back.” Yes, there is something satisfying about putting something tangible in the hands of a person in need. In theory, it’s a nice idea.

But Stuart Lang, who is state director of disaster relief for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, remembers how tons of donated clothes ended up in landfills. There is not a means of distributing them in a large disaster.

Money is the fastest and best first response we can give.

How to help

Major responders who can accept online donations:

American Red Cross 

The Salvation Army 

Georgia Baptists 

United Methodist

When I talked with Lang at midweek, he was in standby mode. The flooding from Hurricane Florence was not over. People were still being rescued by boat and helicopter.

Georgia Baptists have 20 teams of trained volunteers around the state ready for deployment. But first they must know where they will be going and what they will need.

Some of the units have mobile kitchens to prepare hot meals for victims and volunteers. Others are prepared for disposing of the tons upon tons of personal belongings now ruined by water.

“We literally are throwing the victims belongings away right in front of them,” Lang said. “We try to do it with dignity and grace.”

He recalled a previous flood recovery where he had to throw out a table with a family Bible stuck to it by flood and mud. There is little to be salvaged, largely because of health concerns.

One unit of the Georgia Baptists is a mobile day care center. The denomination will provide child care at locations where parents are signing up for assistance. The trailer converts into a large room with everything from toys and books to rocking chairs.

The Baptists are not alone. Methodists, Presbyterians, Mormons, Catholics and just about every denomination have charitable outreach in the aftermath of the storm.

The largest responders, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, have massive kitchens and bring in volunteers from around the country to distribute food and other needed items.

Tips for helping 

  • Do not self-deploy, but wait for an invitation to respond. Disaster response is best coordinated locally at the disaster site.
  • Giving money is the most effective first response. Funds can be directed where needed at the time.
  • Early response is best left to those who have been trained for such events.
  • Do not collect unrequested items. In previous disasters, cast-off clothing has ended up in landfills by the ton.
  • If your church or civic group would like to plan a working mission trip to the area, coordinate through your denomination. If your church is not affiliated with a denomination, a church association, such as the Chattahoochee Baptist Association, or your county’s emergency management agency can give advice on how to proceed.

The first response is best left to trained experienced disaster volunteers. Trust me, there will be months, if not years of opportunities to go on a mission trip to volunteer. There will be needs long after the TV trucks are gone.

Please do not deploy alone or without a contact on the ground in the disaster zone. You may drive a long way without a place to rest and never put your volunteer services to use.

A local church association or the emergency management agency in your county can give you guidance on what is needed now and what will be needed in the future. Please don’t go it alone.

When money is given, it can be put to use in the disaster area in a day or so. The Georgia group will likely set up in South Carolina and will work with a local church. Volunteers sleep on cots in the church building and a trailer containing hot showers is among the tools in their response arsenal.

Many of the volunteers are active retirees who have time to devote to the project, However, Lang says the work is physically and emotionally draining, time spent in the disaster area will be limited and volunteers can return after getting a much needed break.

Give what you can and for goodness sakes don’t worry about who gets it. A hot meal or a helping hand is much needed and it doesn’t matter if those hands belong to a Baptist, a Mormon or a Red Cross volunteer.

And they one thing they need besides your money is your prayers.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear Sundays.

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