Four Things Every Community Needs After a Disaster
When an EF-5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, teachers and students were among the hardest hit. The tornado destroyed two elementary schools and badly damaged another, and classrooms needed everything from math manipulatives to printers and laminators.
Take a moment to see how Moore teachers and students reacted when our donor community provided nearly $1 million in support:
We learned a lot from this outpouring in Moore, Oklahoma, and we’re still working with classrooms in Joplin, Missouri after tornadoes hit their community in 2011, and with schools damaged by Hurricane Sandy. From these experiences, we’ve found that communities need four things when disaster strikes:
Fundraising is most effective in the first 24-48 hours after a natural disaster, when the general public most yearns to help. The morning after the storm, we created a Rebuild Moore Schoolsfund to collect donations.
An outpouring of support can be overwhelming for the local community, however, as many people are still in shock, injured, or grieving. We connected with the school district the day after the storm but purposefully waited a month before flying down to Moore to help teachers assess their needs and create project requests. Teachers still had time to restock their classrooms before the first day of school.
In-kind donations – such as clothing, teddy bears, and backpacks – are sometimes helpful. But donated items require lots of space and time to store, organize and distribute, a challenge for communities where infrastructure is damaged.
For schools, we have seen donations sent in quantities that are too large (like 5,000 backpacks for a school of 200 students), or out of date (text books from the 1980s for current day classes), or age-inappropriate for the students (like crayons for a high school science class).
Choice is essential, allowing those who are affected to replace the resources they need most. Instead of sending something cuddly, choose a charity you trust (preferably one validated by an organization like GuideStar or CharityNavigator) and make a donation to an organization where 100% of the funds go to local recovery efforts. In most situations, writing a check better ensures that the community you support will get what they need. If you prefer to donate goods or volunteer, check with media reports or other local resources to be sure the community needs the items or services you’d like to offer.
3. Follow up
It’s especially important that recovery efforts – both physical and emotional – continue after the TV cameras leave and attention shifts to the next story.
Burlington, one of the corporate partners that contributed to our Moore recovery effort,replaced interactive white boards in the classrooms damaged by the tornado, but they also set aside a portion of their donation to fund projects celebrating the 100th day of school later this year.
Stay in touch with the local community throughout the first year of rebuilding, if not longer. Needs can shift as people rebuild. Demonstrating to the community that you’re still thinking of them makes all the difference.
4. A chance to pay-it-forward
Right after the tornado hit Moore, we heard from teachers we had helped two years ago in Joplin. These teachers sent supportive messages through our website, and several drove to Oklahoma in July to help Moore teachers rebuild their classrooms.
Now, we have a handful of Moore teachers and principals who want to be our Disaster Relief Ambassadors for the Midwest, so they can help when the next disaster hits.
The opportunity to pay-it-forward can be the greatest gift for those who have been the beneficiary of goodwill from others.
How do you like to help after a disaster? If you’ve been affected, what did you need most?
Photo: A message left on the fence at the site of Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, after it was hit by a tornado in May 2013.