Effective ways you can respond

BY PJ HELLER | NEW YORK | October 12, 2001

"The needs from this catastrophe will continue for years and years to come - which is why, in part, our monetary gifts are so important now."

—Johnny Wray

"What can I do?" That's the question countless Americans are still asking in the wake of last month's horrific terrorist attacks.

With nearly 6,000 people missing, thousands of families and friends have lost loved ones. In addition, many have been left homeless in the wake of attacks if they lived in neighborhoods adjacent to "ground zero." There are children who have been left without parents. There is a whole country dealing with fright and trauma. There are exhausted search-and-rescue teams, and pastors who, as caregivers, need care themselves.

There are many in need. What's the best way to help them? The message from responders is clear: Cash donations are best. Do not send material goods, and do not become an "SUV" -- or "spontaneous unwanted volunteer."

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh said, “the most efficient and effective means for citizens or businesses to support relief efforts is through monetary donations to voluntary organizations.”

Faith-based disaster response groups from nearly every denomination are responding to people's needs, as is Church World Service (CWS) emergency response. Pastoral counseling will be a significant component of the faith community's response. CWS has issued an open appeal for financial contributions, and local churches nationwide are collecting monies for their denominational disaster response groups as well.

It's frustrating to want to do something "hands-on" -- then be told to contribute money instead, acknowledged Johnny Wray, who coordinates Week of Compassion, a giving program administered by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

"Our people want to do something now. They want to help in a very real concrete way, go there, do something, right now. I am deeply grateful for that desire and am very empathetic for the frustration we feel when we can not help as we would like. But this is a different kind of disaster. Quite honestly, I doubt those kind of opportunities are going to be available.

"And clearly, material donations are now not needed and may well create more problems than they solve."

But monetary contributions will help people get the long-term help they need, he said. "The commitment of the church, of Week of Compassion, of our partners like Church World Service, is always for the long haul.

"The needs from this catastrophe will continue for years and years to come -- which is why, in part, that our monetary gifts are so important now," he said.

N.E. Murphydoyle, executive secretary of the Massachusetts Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster, agreed.

"If anybody has suggested that you should start drives or collections of material goods, they are mistaken," he said. "The nationally recognized disaster reponse organizations are not accepting material goods for this disaster."

The faith community also uses financial contributions to meet emergency needs. Hours after the attack happened, trained Southern Baptist crews set up specialized mobile feeding units that could provide 50,000 meals a day. The Salvation Army also set up canteens.

And trained volunteers of all denominations who work with Church of the Brethren Disaster Child Care traveled across the country to help care for children of families affected by the plane crashes.

Faith-based and voluntary organizations are also encouraging continued prayers for all affected. Many groups have prepared special litanies and worship tools to help people cope.

". . .Our deepest desire would be that all Americans do what we have always done in times of national tragedy-hold fast to our faith and pray for our president and all our nation's leaders," said Joe Noland of The Salvation Army.

In countless e-mails and letters, organizations have urged people to hang American flags, light commemorative candles, participate in prayer vigils, and just simply show their neighbors they care.

Government officials have given local churches a leadership role in offsetting feelings of hate and anger which may become misdirected toward certain ethnic groups. Many relief organizations are also advocating for millions of Afghanis who are not involved in the crisis but are suffering from starvation due to drought and the current heightened tensions.

Other groups pointed out that this is a good time to practice personal disaster preparedness.

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