Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ways To Help The Helpless

This has been a year of fury: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, fires, floods, wars, revolutions, political upheaval, famine, and disease. Of course every year has its share of these natural and man-made disasters. It is hard for the average person to know if the current year is significantly worse than other previous years or if our 24/7/365 media has magnified its effects making us feel that we’ve seen the worst year of disasters in our lifetime. But no doubt we’ve been through a long season of unpleasant and challenging events.

Millions of people around the world have had their lives destroyed or disrupted, some irremediably altered. Those fortunate enough to live out of harm’s way are left standing in awe and often in horror as their fellow human beings struggle to put their lives back together. Often we want to help but are at a loss to know what we can do. At the risk of merely stating the obvious I’d like to suggest (list) some ways we can be helpful in times of disaster or even in the ongoing needs of those closer to home. It is usually obvious that money given to purchase food, medicine, and shelter are needed. Those with skills and time can provide useful on-site help, and those who cannot go to the site of the disaster can help support those who can and will go. But there are some other ways we can help that may not be immediately obvious. Let’s look at a few of them.

1. First we can become informed about the challenges victims of a disaster are facing. News outlets frequently do an incomplete job of detailing the extent of the damage and the needs of the survivors, either exaggerating, for the sake of ratings, the situation or highlighting only those aspects that elicit the most interest. Knowing what the real situation is can give us a clearer sense of what we can do and how best to do it.

2. Next we can become informed about those agencies who are equipped to help. Some are more efficient in the use of donated resources than others. Since we all have limited resources we need to be assured that what we give – time, money, expertise – will be well utilized to help those in need.

3. If our financial resources are limited we can still make what we have more effective by combining it with other small gifts given to a trusted agency that will use it wisely. A national religious organization is often a good choice or some well-known charity. It is a good idea to check the credibility of any organization you choose to support. There are online resource for doing so. Charity Navigator is a good place to start:

4. When we find a good agency we can become an advocate for it, informing others about it and encouraging their engagement with it.

5. We can seek out opportunities in our communities to serve the needs of others by volunteering at any number of charitable organizations, food pantries, soup kitchens, jails and prisons, hospitals, schools, churches, and more. Just ask and you will receive an opportunity to serve.

6. Never assume that what you have to offer, time, skills, money, ideas, encouragement is too little to offer or too insignificant to matter. You’ll be surprised at what can be used to assist a person in need.

The greatest moments of human history are those when men and women combine their efforts to improve the conditions of those who are suffering. We have seen that kind of effort expended many times this year in response to the disasters that have struck various areas of our world. But there have been millions of other quiet instances of humans helping humans that will never be recorded as “great moments”. They are, nonetheless, a part of what makes our race humane. And we can all be a part of that every day if we accept the opportunities that come to us.

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