Your heart breaks when the worst happens to your friend. Whether he or she just lived through a house fire, watched the neighborhood being destroyed by a wildfire or hurricane, or had all of their belongings swept away in a flood, what could you do to ease the pain? Here are five ways to help a friend after a natural disaster.
Don’t Overestimate Insurance’s Role
If you know your friend is insured, don’t throw up your hands and make the assumption that an insurance claim will solve his or her problems. Insurance won’t cut a client a check the day of or after a disaster. The process takes time, and your friend needs food, clothing, and toiletries before an insurance pay-off kicks in. If you or other neighbors or family members can’t open their homes to the victims, they may need to stay at a hotel for several days/weeks/months. Even if your friend has savings, that savings account can be depleted quickly!
Resist buying a bunch of items for your friend and affected family members unless you’re able to contact them personally or hear from an extended family member or local clergy member on what is needed. Gift cards are useful, because they allow your friend to purchase clothes that fit, food they love, or items they need immediately. Purchase gift cards for:
- Grocery stores
- Local restaurants/coffee shops
- General merchandise stores
- Toy stores (Children will appreciate items to keep them busy and stuffed animals to cuddle since they’ve lost their beloved possessions in such a traumatic way.)
- Gas stations
- Pet stores for pet owners
Cash and checks will probably be most appreciated. Even if you and your community members can chip in $10-$20 each, the total amount can really add up. Work with a local bank or credit union to set up an account for donations. GoFundMe offers a similar donation option online, but be aware that the site will end up taking a percentage of proceeds.
Bake a special dish or prepare a meal for the family. This might be especially appreciated if your friend or family members have dietary restrictions. Your friend may be staying at a relative’s house, but think of how overwhelmed that relative might be with having to prepare extra food and areas to stay without notice. Food prep takes away from time that the victims and their families could use to work on:
- Planning their next steps
- Rebuilding their life
- Trying to cope with the trauma
There are definitely short-term ways to help a friend after a natural disaster, but that doesn’t mean your friend won’t have long-term challenges and need further support. They may need continued support to help them transition back to a normal life. You and your neighbors can help raise money for this by holding fundraisers, such as yard sales, walk-a-thons or by setting up donation jars throughout the community.
Long-term needs that displaced families often require that not many think about are:
- Seasonal clothing
- Holiday decorations
There are several ways to help a friend after a natural disaster. Fires, floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes wreak havoc, but you can be part of the solution. Rally the community for support, and feel good about easing his or hers pain in simple ways. Your friend would do the same for you!