Tonight Hurricane Harvey will slam into the Texas coast. It is expected to stall, dump more than a foot of water, and cause catastrophic flooding. Over the next few days we can expect to hear about deaths, see pictures of flooded communities, and video of survivors who have lost most of their physical possessions.
If you are a normal, caring human being, you will be moved to help. Allow me to give you some pointers about how to most effectively volunteer with three pieces of advice: Be patient, be persistent, and never give up hope.
Volunteers, be patient. The best way to volunteer is to serve where you are, or serve in one to two months from now. That’s when you’ll be needed the most. It is already too late to join a new relief organization, but your faith community may provide some volunteering opportunities. Unless you have existing relationships, it can take time to find a place to volunteer. When you do find an opportunity to serve, it may not be exactly what you had hoped for. Be patient and flexible, and listen to what your neighbors actually need. Please, do not send donations unless someone you know asked for them. Most donations go to waste. Set aside what you wanted to do, and focus on what your community needs from you. Your community will need you more than ever in about a month or two, once most of the first wave of volunteers has gone home.
Be persistent. If you can’t find a place to volunteer, don’t take “no” for a final answer, and do not assume that just because one organization can’t use you that there is no need for help. Major relief organizations like the American Red Cross are in full response mode, and may not have time to train you until after the hurricane response is over. Look for reputable Facebook pages that morph from interest groups to full-fledged operations. Keep trying new organizations until you find a way to serve those in need. Experience has shown that the most effective places to serve are usually in your own neighborhood, community, faith group, or club. Serve creatively, and be creatively persistent in your efforts to serve.
Never give up hope. Being in the right place at the right time makes you the right person. Always be safe and use common sense, but don’t wait for permission to help in meaningful ways—nobody has time to give you permission. Remember that long-term recovery takes years. Never give up on finding a place to serve, never give up on your community, and never stop seeking those in your midst who need your help.