Responding to Hurricane Sandy: Part 2
What should churches do in the wake of a devastating natural disaster?

This is the second of two posts on responding to Hurricane Sandy and similar disasters. You can read Part 1 (covering church closure response, shelters, preparing relief workers, and more) here.

As of November 1, estimates of the total financial cost of Hurricane Sandy's damage reached $50 billion, making the disaster the second-most costly in U.S. history, after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. When considered with the profound loss associated with the personal and emotional toll of the superstorm, the needs of affected communities and churches are truly staggering.

Here is a brief overview of donation handling and pastoral care principles to help guide your efforts in the disaster's aftermath.

Handling donations

Financial donations

Perhaps the best way churches and members can donate to help the victims of a disaster is through financial gifts. This may seem callous and impersonal, but a monetary donation to one of the many voluntary organizations providing disaster relief is a sensible and efficient way to help those in need.

These organizations have a great deal of experience in disaster relief and know what is most needed. Financial gifts allow them to make purchasing decisions and help ensure the flow of support that these organizations provide. Time that would have been spent unloading, processing, organizing, and repackaging goods can be directed toward more critical areas. Also, when these organizations are able to make purchases in the community affected by the disaster, they help spur the recovery of the local economy.

Physical goods

If you decide to send physical goods instead of a financial contribution, first find out what the voluntary organization needs. Many of these organizations have toll-free numbers you can call to find out what items are needed most in the disaster area. Be wary of claims that "everything is needed." In previous disaster relief efforts, countless goods were wasted because donors did not coordinate with relief organizations.

Donated clothing is rarely useful in disaster relief situations because they are difficult to organize and distribute. Early on, relief workers will focus on basic necessities like food and water, so clothing takes up valuable space in warehouses. Especially in flood relief efforts, stored clothing can mildew and is rendered useless long before it can be distributed.

After learning which items are needed, package the items to be donated in easily accessible ways. Label each package clearly, and tape a list of specific contents to the side of the box. Consider the efforts of relief workers who will unload the box, and pack accordingly.

Addressing emotional and spiritual needs

Focus on the people

Concentrating on physical needs of disaster victims is often easier than addressing their emotional and spiritual needs. But these are the needs that most often go unmet. Find opportunities to show God's love to the individuals whose lives have been touched by this tragedy. Search for those who need a word of encouragement, a heart-felt prayer, or someone willing to really listen. As the relief effort drags on, people will naturally become irritated. Many individuals will be tired of telling stories of their hardship, and they may lash out in frustration. Pray for patience and put yourself in their shoes.

Learn to tell the difference between signs of normal stress and grief, and signs of unhealthy grief. Many victims will feel sadness, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, emptiness, fatigue, helplessness, disbelief, numbness, and anger. They may yearn for the way life used to be or feel like God has abandoned them. But quickly respond to signs of unhealthy grief: avoiding and excluding friends and family, prolonged feelings of the worthlessness of life, thoughts of self-harm and self-destruction, and abuse of alcohol or drugs.

Worship services

Churches are uniquely equipped to tend to the spiritual needs of disaster victims. Hold special services to pray for those affected and worship God in the midst of tragedy, especially if your church is acting as a shelter for victims. Damage to your church building can be devastating, and it may take years to return to a new normal. But church fellowship extends beyond physical structures. Worshiping God as a dislocated body will bind your members together in community that will outlast any damaged building. And once a new normal is in sight, hold a special service to celebrate and thank God for his preservation and care.

This is the second of two posts on responding to Hurricane Sandy. Adapted from Church is Cancelled, When Disaster Strikes, and Serving as a Disaster Relief Team.

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