As I write this, Iowa is suffering through incredibly disastrous flooding. Levees have been breached in Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids is nearly underwater. If you want to see how bad things are right now, the best place to watch is KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, which has had amazing coverage of the events around here. Even worse, the water is flowing downstream, breaking levees all throughout Iowa and Illinois, and likely causing flooding of countless homes over the next week and a half.
Over the last forty eight hours, many people have sent me emails and messages asking what they can do to help. Many people see news like this on television, feel some pity for the people involved, but think there’s no way they can really help the situation. While it would be wonderful to have hundreds of thousands of people come to the area to help with sandbagging efforts, that’s only one way you can lend a helping hand to people in disastrous situations like this. You can help, wherever you are, when disasters like this strike. Here are seven things you can do right now to help out with this (or with any major disaster that may occur later).
Donate money to the American Red Cross In 1993, when the Mississippi River floods of that year wiped out my hometown, the American Red Cross was incredibly helpful to everyone in the town. Before the flooding, when the sandbagging was ongoing, they came to town with food and beverages for people volunteering to help sandbag, keeping us cool and strong. During those crucial hours after the levees broke, providing food, water, and assistance to everyone who needed it. Services like this don’t run on magic - they need your help. Kicking even a small $5 donation towards the American Red Cross can help immensely during any domestic disaster. Use the American Red Cross donation form and select “Where the Need Is Greatest.” Even a dollar can help get a bottle of clean drinking water to someone in Cedar Rapids, where there is no potable water.
Put your unused leave to good use Many large workplaces, like the federal government, allow people to give unused leave to others. Contact your HR representative and ask if you can donate some of your unused leave to people affected by the flood.
Donate blood to the American Red Cross, too If there’s a blood drive in your area, stop in and donate blood. When fighting floods, people can get injured badly by unexpected levee breaks and rushing water. Sufficient blood supplies are important. Here’s information on blood donation for the American Red Cross.
Donate unwanted items such as clothing, blankets, bedding, and so on to the Salvation Army After the flood waters began to recede, our town received huge bundles of donations from the Salvation Army - clothes, blankets, and so forth. These items helped many people start to recover from the disaster. If you have some old shirts and pants, some old blankets, or other bedding, drop them off at your local Salvation Army office and ask that they be given to flood relief (or another specific crisis).
Donate bottled beverages, soap, shampoo, etc. to a local church. You can also contact your local church and see if they can point you in the direction of any larger efforts - many church diocese and synods send large trucks of donated goods to disaster areas.
If you’re a spiritual person, include the flood victims in your prayers. Many people rely on their faith to handle disastrous situations. You can help with that by including victims of the flood (and other disasters) in your prayers. Even just a few moments of serious reflection and contemplation of their situation can be a powerful thing, because putting yourself in someone else’s shoes subtly changes not only your perspective, but can also affect their situation, too, as a result of any choices you make because of that contemplation. Pray and/or reflect for a moment on the flood situation, and react with your heart.
Consider National Guard usage when you vote - or get politically involved. When disasters like these floods and Katrina occur, they’re often made worse by a National Guard that’s stretched too thin with overseas deployments. Consider that issue when voting - we need a sufficient National Guard here at home to help out with disaster situations.
The real key is to just find what you have on hand and can easily give. A water bottle and a dollar bill can make a huge difference to someone out there.
The Simple Dollar chronicles a man's road to recovery from "total financial meltdown." As author Trent Hamm puts it, "The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two." We'll post a couple of entries a week, but you can check out his writing daily at www.thesimpledollar.com