Things to know when

volunteering

We want to help.  We don't always know how. 

Here are some observations I've collected from time on both sides of disaster.

After a disaster, folks are pretty fried, and can't be asked to manage volunteers. Take initiative, show up with something you can offer- laundry, washing off salvaged belongings, ready to eat food & clean water, shovels to move muck, buckets or totes to haul debris, whatever it is you can offer. Listen. Be adaptable. Wear boots and gloves, be self contained and understand you are arriving at what is likely the worst day of someone's life.

They need you.

Be someone who shows up.

 
 

~ Safety ~ Immediate Relief ~ Salvage ~ Rebuild ~ Recover~

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First Priority: Safety.

Is anyone in immediate or oncoming danger?  Call emergency back-up.  Do not make the situation worse by endangering yourself. Get them somewhere safe.  Get them medical attention if needed.  Be safe, be smart.

Meet basic needs.  Where can they stay tonight?  Where is food available?  Do they have access to dry clothes, a hot shower, clean water?  Do they have any medical needs- injuries or mediation?

Is there a safe place to stay through the week?


Immediate disaster relief

The first few days to weeks after the disaster

When you show up, understand that folks are likely in some sort of shock, and will express it in a number of ways.  Reach out.  Call them, show up, be there so they are not alone.  Tell them, "I'm here to help."   They may not be able to reach out, to coordinate efforts, give direction or know where to start. If possible, assign someone to be a liaison/ director so the burden isn't entirely on folks reeling from devistation.

Disasters are intensely personal. Folks need time and space to process, and might not want new people in their space at such a vulnerable time.  If folks refuse help, leave your number and graciously move on.  Just knowing there is someone to call if/when they are ready helps.

If folks accept your offer of help, here are ways to start.

Take photos for insurance or other reporting (ask first).

Clear a safe path.  Make sure buildings are safe before entering.  This may mean asking the fire department.

Turn off power at the breaker box, even if power is out to the whole community.  This way your power won't come back on before the home is dry enough.

Remove water.  Get pumps working.

Remove items from flooded areas.  Ask what important items (photos, heirlooms, etc.) to keep an eye out for. Many items will not be salvageable, especially furniture, soft toys, books and other items that may harbor mold. Get photos gently washed and dried as quickly as possible. Help the family sort & decide what can be saved.

Cut out and remove drywall, insulation, other permeable wall material or carpet that has gotten wet.  Remove more than you think you need to be sure all damp materials are out.  Wash and disinfect studs that contacted flood waters or wet wall coverings.

Prevent mold by getting porous items out and washing/ disinfecting walls and other surfaces.  Open windows. Use heat, fans, dehumidifiers to dry impacted areas when power is restored.  Drying can take many days.

Set up a meal site.  Deliver food.  Work with neighbors.  Organize. Set up a volunteer center.  Find out who needs help and who is looking to lend a hand and get them in touch.  Find out people's specific needs and where they can be met.  Set up a donation location or volunteer with one.

come ready

Wear boots, gloves, Dust masks.  Bring dry clothes, towels.

things to bring

Drinking water, food

pumps. Generators.

Shovels. Brooms. Scrub brushes. squeegees

Buckets.  Totes.

Heavy duty trash bags

Utility knives.  Pry bars.  Claw Hammers. 

Head lamps. battery powered lights.

Power Washers

Soap, rags, cleaning items

vinegar or peroxide

Spray bottles

Fans, dehumidifiers

Markers, paper

Kindness

Donations:

  • Personal care
  • Cleaning supplies
  • First Aid
  • Ready to eat food
  • Pet food
  • Hand tools
  • Toilet paper
  • Gas and Laundry cards
  • Monetary Donations
  • Limited clothing & household: Many folks are not back in their homes, & are not ready to rebuild yet. Socks & underwear are particularly useful.

Salvage, Discard, Clean up

The first weeks after the disaster

This is the point where the initial adrenaline is wearing off and folks are often overwhelmed.  They are having to decide if it is worth it to keep  their homes, their businesses, the things they've built over a lifetime.

Be ready to come back later.  They may need help but just not right now.  Give them your number and get theirs.  Ask when would be a good time. Listen.

Have concrete offers of help.  Do not expect them to give you direction.

Wash and dry salvageable items.  Do laundry.  Wash housewares and toys.  Gently wash and photos and lay them or hang them to dry.  Some will be destroyed, but many may survive. 

Help sort debris and load dumpsters. 

Not all items can be dumpstered, including: Electronics, Oil, Liquid Waste, Appliances, Paint, Tires, Yard Waste, Lead Acid Batteries, Rechargeable Batteries, Fluorescent Bulbs, Hazardous Waste, & recyclables.

Power wash or scrub areas that still have mud.

Clean up yards.  Coming home to a place that doesn't look like a disaster site is very important for people's well-being.

come ready

Wear boots, gloves, Dust masks.  Bring dry clothes, towels.

things to bring

Drinking water, food.

Brooms. Mops. Scrub brushes. squeegees.

Power washers

Totes.  Laundry Baskets.

Newspaper.  Bubble wrap. Tape. Markers.

Heavy duty trash bags.

Utility knives.  Pry bars.  Claw Hammers. 

Medical kits

Soap, rags, cleaning items

vinegar or peroxide

Spray bottles

Clothes pins to dry photos

Fans, dehumidifiers

Markers, paper

Understanding

Donations:

  • Personal care
  • Cleaning supplies
  • First Aid
  • Ready to eat food
  • Hot Food
  • Pet food
  • Hand tools
  • Toilet paper
  • Gas and Laundry cards
  • Monetary Donations
  • Limited clothing & household: Many folks are not back in their homes, & are not ready to rebuild yet. Socks & underwear are particularly useful.

Rebuild

The weeks to year after the disaster

People are preparing to return to their homes and are trying to rebuild.   

After basic salvage is done, folks need time to plan and prepare how they want to move forward.  Depending on the degree of damage, this could be quickly after the disaster or years down the line. 

Be patient.  You are still needed. 

Plan fund raisers to rebuild.

Donate clothing and household items.

Stay in touch.  There is so much incredible response immediately after a disaster, but often folks are left alone after the urgency dies down.  Even if you don't need to be on the ground, keeping in touch and knowing you are available is a great contribution.

Help plan what the future will look like.  Identify the most critical needs and how to meet them.  Prioritize, make concrete plans of what needs doing, how it will be done and who/ what skills are needed.  Organize an execution plan.

Organize friends and have work parties.  Rebuild.  Work together.  Bring food.  Laugh together, cry together.    

Take time to just listen and be there for people. 

Come Ready

Wear work clothes

things to bring

Drinking water, food.

Brooms. Mops. Scrub brushes.

Soap, rags, cleaning supplies

Hand Tools & power tools

Medical kits

Donations:

  • Personal care items
  • Real food- produce, dairy, non-perishables
  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Bedding
  • Household supplies- paper towels, bandages, dish soap, etc.
  • Household items- everything to rebuild a home
  • Hand tools
  • Pet food
  • Gas and Laundry cards
  • Monetary Donations

Recover

The years after the disaster

What was lost in the disaster took years, sometimes generations to build.  Things aren't back to normal once there is a roof over your head.  

Take someone out for coffee.  Listen.  Check in.  Offer help & organize friends.  Just be there.  

Things will never be the same.

But they will be OK.

Donations:

  • Real food- produce, dairy, non-perishables
  • Clothing, Furniture, Bedding
  • Household supplies- paper towels, bandages, dish soap, etc.
  • Household items- everything to rebuild a home
  • Hand tools, Building Materials
  • Pet food
  • Gas and Laundry cards
  • Monetary Donations