Friday, October 13, 2017

What Can We Do BEFORE Disasters Strike?

Hurricanes. Wild fires. Terrorist shootings. The United States has multiple disasters happening one on top of the other right now. A massive earthquake recently ravaged Mexico City and flooding has uprooted many people across Southeast Asia. For those of us who are far away from the scenes and have no special training, it's easy to be caught up in helpless emotions. We want to help, but don't know how. We write checks. We send our thoughts. We pray. But once the media fades away from the crisis of the day, isn't there more we could be doing? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I hope we can start a conversation about it. I made a list of four things that I do that make me feel just a little bit better when I hear about a terrible emergency because was able to help before the disaster even strikes. Telling my children about them helps the kids feel better, too, and sets the example of doing good all year round. Please share your ideas in the comments. We can all learn more!

1. Be a regular blood donor
When tragedy hits in America - whether it's a natural disaster or a mass murder by gun violence - good hearted people line up to give blood from their own veins to help victims. Sometimes we see pictures  in the newspapers of long lines of blood donors. This is awesome. It is admirable. We should do this. Folks should know, however, that the blood collected right after a tragedy will likely not be used for recovery from that event. It takes several weeks to test and process the blood for distribution to patients. So, it's great to be able to refill the supply right after a big demand...AND we should also consider donating at other times, so we always have blood there when we need it. 

That's not blood, it's iodine :)
Did you know that the Red Cross makes it super easy to schedule to donate at any time that is convenient for you? The website lets me know that are three regular donation sites within 10 miles of my house and usually a couple of blood drives going on in public spaces. "Rapid Pass" lets me answer the long list of health questions online, so I don't have to hang out there reading forms. You can be notified by email or phone to be reminded when you can next give (every 8 weeks). They even email me weeks later after my blood has been processed to tell me exactly which hospital was lucky enough to get a special delivery of my personal batch of O-positive.

2. Call or write your members of Congress every week about anti-poverty programs
Letter-writing is even more effective
when you do it with friends!
It's a sad fact of life that whenever disaster strikes, it's always people living in poverty that get hurt the most. They have far fewer resources to get out of the path of a hurricane or bounce back financially when they are physically hurt or lose a home. Anti-poverty advocacy groups like RESULTS and Bread for the World can keep you updated on how to take action on programs and policies that help people out of poverty in the U.S. and around the world. 

Sometimes helping communities in poverty can even have benefits in averting future catastrophes. For instance, because of continued global support of immunizations and medical facilities, Nigeria was able to contain an Ebola outbreak in 2014 very quickly. The U.S. was a large donor for this effort. They had used funds to increase the number of aid workers for other diseases, but this had the effect of having more trained personnel on the ground who could identify and isolate patients with Ebola. Also, more medical care facilities and equipment stemmed the spread of the disease early, which was critical to avoid widespread suffering and death. 

Making few calls or writing a letter only takes about 5 minutes each week, but contact from constituents is an important way that your members of Congress decide what is important from day to day. 

3. Proactively give to organizations that provide first responders
I know it's a natural thing to hear about a hurricane and then want to give to an organization that will make sure that 100% of your money will go to recovery efforts of that particular hurricane. The Red Cross got so much criticism after Hurricane Katrina about whether funds were going to New Orleans specifically, that they added a drop down selection list online so that you can choose which disaster you wish to address. 

Unfortunately, first responders can't wait around for you to hear about a disaster on the news and type in your credit card numbers when you get a chance. They have to respond, like, NOW. So, consider making a donation sometime when hurricane and wildfire seasons are over and selecting the "Where It's Needed Most" option. I also like to donate to Samaritan's Purse and the International Red Cross because I simply cannot predict where the next disaster will be. Neither can they, but they can make a really good educated guess about it based on their years of experience. Plus, Samaritan's Purse has great flexibility to respond to medical disasters like the Ebola outbreak. After hearing the harrowing story of a doctor who worked on the ground with them in the early days of the epidemic, I became a donor because I want these people to be mobilized in an instant before I even find out about a disaster on NPR's Morning Edition! Don't wait for me, guys...just GO!

3. Become a monthly donor
Most people have a tendency to think: "Oh, that's just what rich people can do." I used to think that before I actually worked on a non-profit fundraising team. It turns out that most organizations would be thrilled to have a monthly donation from you for even as little as $5 a month, which amounts to $60 a year. That's a lot for some people, but if you are a person that spends that much on coffee every day, it's easily within your reach. Monthly donors often say that they like donating this way because it helps them to budget well. Organizations love it because they can be more effective in their yearly planning. So many of us wait until December to see what we can afford to give at the end of the year. That's good for us, but it's hard for a non-profit to know if they'll have enough money to hire new people or pay the rent if they have to wait until the 4th financial quarter to find out how much they have. It also feels good to me to get periodic reminders from the bank about the good work my money is doing even if I'm too busy to be actively working on a problem. 

What do you do to help before disasters strike? Please leave a comment and share!