On the fourth day of Thanks and Giving, we give to you … four sources of resources to turn to when lightning strikes.
The flood waters have receded, the tornado has dissolved, the hurricane has blown through. You are suffering. Who do you call for help?
The good news is there is a lot of help to be found.
The bad news is that it can be hard to find. There is no one source for help. There is no one in charge of helping you! However, with the power of the internet, modern communication tools and, especially, old-fashioned talking to others in your communities, you can find the help you need.
Here are the four sources of resources to look for (if you are in the United States):
1. Community and local organizations
The key to my, our, experience is, the fact that we are a very, very tight knit community helped immensely.
— Judy D., CZU Lightning Complex fire survivor
The first source of help is right next to you. If you haven’t already done so, check in with your neighbors, even the ones you don’t already know. See if they need help, and whether they can help you. If you work together, you will have access to many more resources than if you’re all off alone.
Next, check in with the community organizations around you — community centers, faith-based organizations, sports clubs, in other words, your community. These places often become hubs for sharing resources and exchanging information.
This information exchange is critical because the greatest source of help is not any one large institution, but rather the many, many community organizations around you. Don’t forget to check out community information sources such as local newspapers and local agencies’ sites, such as the Public Emergency Portal for Marin County, CA.
Even if you don’t think you need anything, stop by and say hello. You and the people there are all going through a traumatic experience. Reinforcing your sense of connectedness and community is vital to your mental health.
2. The Red Cross and other National Nonprofits
The American Red Cross’s primary mission is disaster relief. Contacting your local Red Cross chapter should be one of your first steps in seeking assistance. As an independent national nonprofit, the Red Cross does not need approval to spend money on helping you. So they can help you whether only your home burned or the whole town is damaged. And, their help arrives more quickly than that from federal or state agencies.
The Red Cross will help you with immediate needs, such as making sure that you have a safe place to stay, food to eat, clothes to wear, and critical prescription medications. But they are not alone. Many other national nonprofit organizations also support these and other needs, for instance, providing spiritual or mental care, or helping with animal welfare.
Following a disaster, local, regional and national voluntary organizations are often the first to arrive to provide assistance. They are also the last to leave. These organizations offer a range of services including feeding, sheltering, provision of hygiene or cleaning supplies, case management, mucking and gutting, debris and tree removal, tarping of roofs, repairing damage or rebuilding homes.
Finding out about these different sources of assistance can be difficult. Remember, there is no one in charge of helping you and no one place to find out what help is out there. Talking to your neighbors and community hubs is often the best way to find out what is out there.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce maintains lists of nonprofits providing emergency response and disaster recovery assistance.
3. Private sector
If you have insurance, calling your insurance company should be a first step in seeking disaster relief.
And the insurance company did send somebody out. And I’m saying, “I don’t think you need to come out. There’s no damage here.” And the guy went around with his white glove, or whatever he did. And said, “No, you got all this, this needs to be …,” whatever, [they] handed us a bunch of money.
Insurance companies provide other services besides “handing over a bunch of money.” For example, they may cover the cost of temporary housing if you have loss of use coverage. So, be sure to know what benefits your insurance policy includes and have your insurance company’s claims processing contact information on hand. The Red Cross’s recovering financially after a disaster offers excellent advice on how to work with your insurance company.
Many larger corporations and smaller businesses have emergency assistance programs to help their employees, e.g., Target’s Team Member Giving Fund. So, check with your employer.
Your utility company may be able to help you with reduced payments, if you are financially distressed. Such aid is often a result of government support. For example, the state of California provided money to reduce utility bills for people affected by the 2017 wildfires. Talk to your utility company to find out what programs are available to you and how to apply for them.
You may also get help online. Platforms for crowdsourcing aid to disaster survivors are becoming more common. For instance, airbnb.org can connect you with people who offer free housing to people who are impacted by disaster. rebuildee.com will let you set up a wish list to collect funds for things you need, and is free to both recipients and donors.
4. Public assistance from the federal, state, and local governments
Finally, you may be able to get help from the government.
When a disaster is large enough, the local government may call the state for help. That is when a state governor declares a state of emergency. This is not just an expression of alarm — it is an official proclamation that opens the door to the use of state funds to assist disaster survivors. You will need to find your own state’s emergency management agency to find what assistance is available in your state.
For example, the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) site for the 2021 wildfires, and Florida’s Division of Emergency Management’s (FloridaDisaster) site for Hurricane Ian in 2022.
When the disaster is too large for the state to handle, then the governor will request help from the federal government. Now, it is the President of the United States who declares a State of Emergency, opening the door for the use of federal funds to aid those affected by the disaster.
Federal aid to individuals and households comes primarily from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It has many programs to support disaster survivors, all of which you apply for via DisasterAssistance.gov.
However, don’t stop with FEMA. Many other federal agencies provide assistance for disaster survivors that you won’t get with an application to FEMA. The American Planning Association (APA) maintains an extensive list of national resources for disaster recovery. A few examples include:
- Tax relief from the IRS
- Disaster loan assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration
- Disaster unemployment assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor
- Savings bonds redemption from the U.S. Treasury Department
FEMA’s DisasterAssistance.gov site does provide a search tool and an index to the various forms of federal assistance that may be available to you.
So, as we said, there is a lot of help available, but you may need to do some work to find it. Start by looking around your own community, especially for the emergency resources you need immediately. As you expand your search from immediate needs to long-term recovery, so too expand your search to the slower, but much greater resources of nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government agencies.
The responsibility of preparing for disaster recovery begins with the individual and builds to the larger responsibility of the community and local government. The local government has the primary role of planning and managing all aspects of the community’s recovery. Community planning efforts are supported by voluntary, faith-based and community organizations; private sector; and State, Local, Tribal, Territorial and Federal Governments.
To celebrate the thanks of Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday, today, we give a very special thanks to the many community organizations who have given when others were in need. Napa Valley Community Foundation, CADRE, After the Fire USA, COPE, Coffey Strong and myriad others.
If you take disaster seriously, please
support our work.
We thank you for all that you give.