10 Concrete Ways To Help After A Disaster

16 Apr

I was sipping an overpriced americano in a small, aggressively hip coffee shop today when the news broke about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. I’d only meant to sit down for a few minutes, but ended spending over two hours there nursing my cold coffee and obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed.

Sitting there, I had the surreal experience of watching a disaster unfold in real time on social media. What made it even more strange was the fact that I was surrounded by people who had no idea what was happening. Two girls across from me discussed their upcoming Vipassana retreat and had a passive aggressive competition about their current meditation practices. A girl next to me was reading The Feminist Porn Book and occasionally making furious notes in her Moleskine. A young boy and his grandmother seated on my other side tried to figure out his math homework.

Everyone was totally oblivious to the fact that someone was apparently trying to blow Boston sky-high.

I wanted to lean over and poke the Feminist Porn girl and tell her what was happening, because I was suddenly desperate to have a real-life, non-internet conversation about this. It felt so lonely to be the only one in that coffee shop currently living in a world where people were detonating bombs at maybe the most famous marathon in America. But that seemed like it might be a weird thing to do, and anyway, she seemed really happy to be sitting there, alternately reading and scrawling. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin the Feminist Porn girl’s day, and anyway, she’d learn about Boston soon enough.

What happened today in that coffee shop was eerily similar to my experience on September 11th. I was in my first year at Dalhousie, and I’d gone to the Howe Hall student lounge between classes. There, on an oversized tv screen, a crowd of people were watching airplanes fly into buildings.

At first I thought it must be a movie, but then I realized that they were showing the same scene over and over.

“Is this a joke?” I wondered aloud. “It’s a joke, right?”

“No,” said the girl next to me. “Someone’s destroying America and it’s about fucking time.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I turned away and walked dazedly to my next class.

I figured out pretty quickly that no one there knew what was happening in New York. Everyone was laughing and chattering about their most recent drunken exploits, or their upcoming drunken exploits, or else how they were going to get money for more drunken exploits. It was as if I’d slipped into an alternate universe, one where no one was jumping out of skyscrapers because they knew they were going to die anyway and they didn’t want to wait until the fire made its way up to them.

I sidled up to one girl and whispered to her that someone had just flown a plane into the World Trade Centre. She just looked at me blankly, said, “Really?” then turned and started a new conversation with someone else.

The thing about me is that I like to do things. When stuff like this happens, I get all jittery and weird, like I need to be doing something concrete, something real, something right now to help whoever is hurt. It was, in fact, kind of lucky that I was in Halifax on September, because there was actually a ton of stuff, helpful stuff, that I was able to do in the wake of the disaster.

After the towers were hit, all of the overseas flights headed for the no-fly zone were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, and Halifax. The tightly-knit community on our small peninsula suddenly swelled by 8,000 people. The city needed to set up adequate food and shelter, and fast.

Naturally, when trying to find a large, unpaid work force, Halifax immediately thought of its student population. Those of us in residence were recruited to help out in various ways, from collecting donations from local businesses to cooking, setting up house and otherwise caring for our unexpected guests.

Because my residence, Gerard Hall, was attached to the abandoned (read: terrifying and haunted) Old Halifax Infirmary, my friends and I were sent to retrieve the stacks and stacks of hospital mattresses that were left there. I would later revisit the Old Infirmary again with my friend Ali, who would break in so that she could skateboard up and down its smooth, ghostly halls.

Later we were taken by bus out to the Exhibition Ground, where we handed out toiletries, blankets and toys to people who spoke barely any English. Many of them had no idea where they were, and had never, in fact, heard of Halifax. Everyone was very subdued, very still – even the babies were quiet. No one was upset at having to sleep on the concrete floor of a building that normally housed horses; mostly everyone was just happy to be alive.

There was this sort of sense that we were all in this together, and that if we could just keep being nice to each other, we could stop bad things like this from happening ever again.

There was also this sense that if we could all just keep moving, if we could keep doing helpful, constructive things, we wouldn’t have to think about what all this violence and hatred meant.

In the wake of the bombing today, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to help. I want to be like those people I saw in the news footage who ran towards the destruction, not away from it. I want to do something, anything to stop me from feeling like a useless, voyeuristic bystander. So, with the input of a few friends, I’ve put together a list of things that we can all do, no matter where we are:

1. When you are sharing information about what’s happening in Boston, please take a minute to make sure that whatever you’re posting or re-tweeting is accurate and correct. I’ve already seen a few fake twitter accounts promising to donate money to disaster relief for every retweet. I’ve also seen people posting sensationalized stuff that just isn’t true. Before you hit “retweet,” make sure that you are being a reliable conduit of facts for your friends and family.

2. Let the emergency response workers and law enforcement do their thing.Give them the chance to tell you what they need. They will let you know how you can best offer help. If you were at the finish line at the marathon, the FBI requests that you share photos or videos with investigators. Call 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), prompt #3.

3. Use social media to let others know you are okay or to offer help. Google has created a Person Finder site for the Boston Marathon to help people locate their loved ones. There is also a Google Doc to help stranded visitors find a place to stay or for Boston residents to offer a couch or bed in their own home.

4. Give blood. Or if you can, donate money to theAmerican Red Cross, which is the organization that handles most blood donations in the United States. If the blood bank is all booked up (the Red Cross noted yesterday they were not immediately in need of blood donors), make an appointment to make a donation in a few weeks’ time, when the huge supply they have from people initially responding to the disaster has run out.

5. Look for small but vital local organizations that serve members of the population who might not receive help from larger aid organizations. Look for shelters that need blankets and clothing, or food banks that need non-perishable items. Stuff like that.

6. Refrain from speculating on the race, ethnicity or religion of the perpetrator. Don’t make this political. Keep any remarks about Obama’s response, your thoughts on immigration policy, and the current state of homeland defence to yourself. There will be plentyt of time to dissect these things in the coming days; for now, remember that everyone around you, Obama included, is frightened and upset.

7. Hug the shit out of your friends and family. Remind everyone how much you love them until they’re tired of hearing it. Then remind them again.

8. Take care of yourself. If reading about the bombing or looking at pictures starts to become too much, give yourself permission to take a break and get off social media for a while. The world’s not going to end if you’re not on Twitter.

9. Give everyone else a break. They’re having a hard time too. Remember that everyone mourns or deals with stress in different ways.

10. Eat some chocolate. Read this article. Then read this. Remind yourself of how many legitimately good, caring people are out there. Remember the adversity that the human spirit is capable of overcoming, and remind yourself that, even after something like this, we will rebuild. We have to.

I love you guys.


37 Responses to “10 Concrete Ways To Help After A Disaster”

  1. annesquared April 16, 2013 at 2:25 am #

    Reblogged this on Anne Squared and commented:
    Good Suggestions from a Good Thinker.

  2. Jen Anderson April 16, 2013 at 2:36 am #

    Great post. I’m a native NYer and I was in Southern CA on business on 9/11. Everyone around us was so laid back about it that it’s a miracle I didn’t hit anyone.

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 2:44 am #

      Oh man, SERIOUSLY? How awful! Everyone I know was totally shaken to the core 😦

  3. nesseva April 16, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    This is an amazing post!!

    I’m at loss for words about what happened today. It’s terrible and barely believable. I went running tonight, thinking of the victims of the bombings, especially that 8-year-old boy… 😦

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 2:39 am #

      Thank you! I know. It was awful, like, beyond words.

      • nesseva April 16, 2013 at 2:40 am #

        Are you Canadian?

      • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 2:58 am #

        Yes! Lived in Nova Scotia for seven years. Currently in Toronto.

      • nesseva April 17, 2013 at 1:45 am #

        Nice!! I’m in Montreal 🙂 Studied Sylvia Plath while in university. I love her. Came across your blog because of a blogger friend (“lapetitelicorne”).

  4. NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE April 16, 2013 at 2:40 am #

    Great and perfect advice !! If I might suggest one more thing… Be respectful !! I know everyone feels as frustrated and terrible about Boston as anyone, but please folks, under the circumstances, making less than polite political remarks, tweets, comments etc. about our government, our homeland defense, our responders, about race, about religion, etc. is really not being very respectful of the entire circumstance. In the past several hours, unfortunately, I’ve seen way to much of this. Whatever happened to the concept of respect?

  5. AmazingSusan April 16, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    Sensible ❤

  6. armsakimbobook April 16, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    Thank you for this post. I live in the Boston area and we are stunned. Just stunned. My 13 year-old daughter is in shock, and crying on and off about why and how people could do this. I hate having conversations about this with her. Sigh.

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 2:56 am #

      I am seriously so thankful that my son is too young to have to talk to him about this.

      By the time he’s older all of the bad things will be done and over with, right?

      xoxoxo to you and your family

  7. aliceleftinwonderland April 16, 2013 at 2:54 am #

    I think you’ve touched on one of the strangest things we have in modern day: the ability to have news of events as they happen, not just few blocks or miles away, but across the globe.

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Yeah … it’s bizarre to be able to watch this stuff happening in real-time. I feel like that adds to the potential for spreading misinformation.

  8. M. L. Brennan April 16, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    Reblogged this on M. L. Brennan and commented:
    It’s hard to know what to do with yourself or how to feel after a disaster like this, which is why I think blog entries like this are so important. The Belle Jar has presented it beautifully, so just go ahead and read:

  9. Elisha April 16, 2013 at 3:34 am #

    Reblogged this on A Provocative Mind and commented:
    Well said. And then some.

  10. Miriam April 16, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    This one hit too close to home for me. My oldest son is in Boston (and we’re far away from him). He works at the Prudential Center which is very close to where the bombs went off, and was on the train going into work when it happened. He’s okay but pretty shaken up and as a mom I am feeling very distraught.
    To go along with what you’ve written, he mentioned several times how surreal everything was- the confusion and chaos, and this terrible thing happening at a time when the city was in party mode.
    I haven’t even been able to blog about it yet, maybe by tomorrow I’ll feel able to write about it.

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      Oh man, I’m so glad he’s okay. I would be feeling very distraught as well! I didn’t realize until this was happening that yesterday was a public holiday in Boston, which, along with the marathon, meant that the downtown was full of people.

      Big hugs to you ❤

  11. Melissa A. April 16, 2013 at 6:04 am #

    Small world, I was also in my first year at Dalhousie on 9/11. I woke up and was on the Coldplay fan message board, and that’s how I found out, then I turned on the tv. It was definitely a strange day.

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      Oh really? What res were you in? So strange!

      • Melissa A. April 18, 2013 at 4:43 am #

        I was doing my MLIS.

  12. Amanda April 16, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    I’m a runner and from MA (actually lived within short walking distance from the start line of the marathon for a, few years). My uncle ran this year, along with other friends.

    The progression of knowledge and reality of the situation, just like with 9/11, is unreal. I first heard there were explosions, while on a walk. I figured it was fireworks or some kind of electrical thing. As my walk progressed, I heard more and more and it started to seem real. My walk turned into a run as I raced home in a panic to turn on the TV and Twitter. It’s just so unbelievable, so surreal. I felt this way after 9/11, too. I don’t know how the people running, watching, or dealing with the immediate tragedy at the scene are even dealing with this.

    • bellejarblog April 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Oh man, that’s crazy. I hope that everyone you know is okay.

      And yeah, it feels really surreal, and I’m not even there ❤

  13. Meg April 16, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Very good article. I would add, as a 911 operator, to avoid burdening your local public services with non essential calls. This not the day to call about the neighbors chronic barking dogs, or loud music, gender benders or minor criminal damaging. Any feparrment in the area is being flooded with calls and is often shorthanded because they are providing backup to affected agency.

  14. Elle April 16, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    You made me cry and agree…and not enough DO stuff…
    The net is full of wanna do never actually do it…
    Thanx BJ…keep on truckin’ 🙂

  15. LaVaughn Bye April 16, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I wish there were more women (and men) who think like you do!

  16. izzy82 April 17, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    I was in Boston yesterday 😦 Thank you for writing this and for your compassion.


  1. 2013 In Review: Part 1 | The Belle Jar - December 29, 2013

    […] in April, including the ways in which Dove manipulates women, Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide, the Boston Bombing, and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a five year old Indian girl. I also experienced one of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: