By Conference Minister Diane Weible
When a tragedy like the Camp Fire strikes, our natural inclination is to ask, “What can I do to help?” I’ve asked it and I know many of you are asking it. We see the news and we know our sisters and brothers are suffering and surely there should be something we can do?
I’ve talked to many people who immediately go to their closets to look for food and household items that people might need as they begin to rebuild. For me, I find myself wanting to get in the car and just go, hoping there is something I can do to help. All of this, I think, is natural—we don’t want people affected by the wildfire to be alone in their pain—we want to offer companionship.
The problem is that even though the desire to help is wonderful and good and comes from our hearts, it may cause more harm than good. An article in the Sacramento Bee Newspaper, “Generous but useless donations flood wildfire evacuation centers. Here’s what to send” explains how there is nowhere to put all the items that get donated in times like this and because many people are motivated to clean out their homes in order to find things they think others may want or need, not everything donated is usable. With echoes of the proverbial Christmas Fruitcake, there is a story (mythical or real, I’m not sure) about a container of items donated by people that no one wants so the next time there is a natural disaster, that container is delivered to the next place in hopes that those items will find a good home there but the reality is that just more is added to the contents until it is filled with items that can’t be used.
Likewise, if I get in my car and drive to the area without an invitation there may or may not be something for me to do. And, as others who have experienced disasters like this have shared, the community suddenly feels they need to be host and take care of me. That is not my intent but that is what happens. It is better for me to wait until it is the right time to go. In situations like this clean-up efforts and rebuilding efforts are coordinated through programs such as our own UCC Disaster Ministries.
As hard as it is, the best advice we can receive is to take our cue from the people in the center of the disaster to let us know what they need and when they need our help.
And, as we wait, there are things we can do:
1. Pray. UCC Disaster Ministries has posted resources that we can use in worship on Sunday as we stand in solidarity with those who are hurting. Click HERE to visit this web page.
2. Give. Financial gifts and gift cards are the most helpful. Gifts designated for the fire will allow our churches and partners in the area to reach out to those in need.
3. Make Clean-up Buckets. While there are a lot of cleanup buckets that were prepared prior to this fire that have been deployed to the places they are needed, it is important to be making more buckets for a future time when they will be needed again. And, if your church has space or ideas about space for where we can store them, please let me know. If we have a central location(s) for storing buckets they will be easier to deploy and churches without the space to store them will be encourage to participate knowing there is a place they can be delivered and stored. UCC Disaster Ministries has small matching grants left for churches that want to take on a bucket project. Information on putting the buckets together and about the matching grants can be found on the UCC Disaster Ministries page.
4. If you have space in your home or an Airbnb rental, Airbnb is making it easy for you to offer housing to First Responders or someone who has been displaced by the fire. You can choose the amount of time your space is available and you can sign up whether it is a spare bedroom or an entire home.
Our hearts and our prayers are with all of you whose lives have been devastated by the Camp Fire and with all those who are still recovering from previous fires and have been retraumatized by this fire event. May God help us to help one another and stand together during this difficult time.