On the way to work this morning I heard a really great report on NPR about the ways people are supporting the response on the East Coast to Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. It was discussing how in-kind, material gifts are handled and how they affect the process. The overall point of the report was that even though in-kind, material donations are a great sign of the amazing giving nature of people in this country they may effect relief efforts in unintended ways.

One of the main reasons for this is that without knowing the specific needs of those affected by disaster in-kind gifts like water, food and clothing may not end up being needed but will still have to be sorted, processed and stored. Running the risk of taking away energies from other relief efforts. Also, many of the organizations who are carrying out the relief and eventual recovery efforts are also able to acquire better deals for needed items because of bulk purchasing and special agreements with vendors. In the end the article lifts up that financial contributions, though seemingly less tangible, actually are the most useful type of support.

The report also had a short piece at the end about a woman who was looking for a way to say thank you to the National Guardsmen who had helped her after she found out her home was destroyed. When she asked what she could do to thank them, they said nothing, that they were happy to help. So she decided to share the gift of homemade baked goods as a way of expressing thanks. This highlighted for me an important point for those who choose to give of their time by volunteering after a disaster.

As we help those affected by disaster, part of responding to the whole person is giving them the space and ways to give thanks. This is not to say we are to demand, nor even to expect, expressions of thanks, but that by giving someone the space to give thanks when they request it is actually allowing them a way to feel a part of their own recovery. For many the gift of being able to give proper thanks will mean as much to them in their recovery process as the fixed roof over their head, new clothing and/or restored power. I think it is one of the deepest and most difficult ways we are called by Christ to be neighbor.

Please take time to read/listen to the report and to think about how we can all best support the efforts on the East Coast and following future disasters. Want To Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes (NPR, November 16, 2012)

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.