Updated on 06.15.08

Seven Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Flood Victims

Trent Hamm

As I write this, Iowa is suffering through incredibly disastrous flooding. Levees have been breached in Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids is nearly underwater. If you want to see how bad things are right now, the best place to watch is KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, which has had amazing coverage of the events around here. Even worse, the water is flowing downstream, breaking levees all throughout Iowa and Illinois, and likely causing flooding of countless homes over the next week and a half.

Over the last forty eight hours, many people have sent me emails and messages asking what they can do to help. Many people see news like this on television, feel some pity for the people involved, but think there’s no way they can really help the situation. While it would be wonderful to have hundreds of thousands of people come to the area to help with sandbagging efforts, that’s only one way you can lend a helping hand to people in disastrous situations like this. You can help, wherever you are, when disasters like this strike. Here are seven things you can do right now to help out with this (or with any major disaster that may occur later).

Donate money to the American Red Cross In 1993, when the Mississippi River floods of that year wiped out my hometown, the American Red Cross was incredibly helpful to everyone in the town. Before the flooding, when the sandbagging was ongoing, they came to town with food and beverages for people volunteering to help sandbag, keeping us cool and strong. During those crucial hours after the levees broke, providing food, water, and assistance to everyone who needed it. Services like this don’t run on magic – they need your help. Kicking even a small $5 donation towards the American Red Cross can help immensely during any domestic disaster. Use the American Red Cross donation form and select “Where the Need Is Greatest.” Even a dollar can help get a bottle of clean drinking water to someone in Cedar Rapids, where there is no potable water.

Put your unused leave to good use Many large workplaces, like the federal government, allow people to give unused leave to others. Contact your HR representative and ask if you can donate some of your unused leave to people affected by the flood.

Donate blood to the American Red Cross, too If there’s a blood drive in your area, stop in and donate blood. When fighting floods, people can get injured badly by unexpected levee breaks and rushing water. Sufficient blood supplies are important. Here’s information on blood donation for the American Red Cross.

Donate unwanted items such as clothing, blankets, bedding, and so on to the Salvation Army After the flood waters began to recede, our town received huge bundles of donations from the Salvation Army – clothes, blankets, and so forth. These items helped many people start to recover from the disaster. If you have some old shirts and pants, some old blankets, or other bedding, drop them off at your local Salvation Army office and ask that they be given to flood relief (or another specific crisis).

Donate bottled beverages, soap, shampoo, etc. to a local church. You can also contact your local church and see if they can point you in the direction of any larger efforts – many church diocese and synods send large trucks of donated goods to disaster areas.

If you’re a spiritual person, include the flood victims in your prayers. Many people rely on their faith to handle disastrous situations. You can help with that by including victims of the flood (and other disasters) in your prayers. Even just a few moments of serious reflection and contemplation of their situation can be a powerful thing, because putting yourself in someone else’s shoes subtly changes not only your perspective, but can also affect their situation, too, as a result of any choices you make because of that contemplation. Pray and/or reflect for a moment on the flood situation, and react with your heart.

Consider National Guard usage when you vote – or get politically involved. When disasters like these floods and Katrina occur, they’re often made worse by a National Guard that’s stretched too thin with overseas deployments. Consider that issue when voting – we need a sufficient National Guard here at home to help out with disaster situations.

The real key is to just find what you have on hand and can easily give. A water bottle and a dollar bill can make a huge difference to someone out there.

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  1. Shanel Yang says:

    I was surprised to see this title and topic on TSD, but very glad to read it. Thank you for this post.

  2. Chad says:

    I live close to one of the shelters in Cedar Rapids and have been helping out as much as I can. I totally agree with Trent that donating to the Red Cross is the #1 thing people can do. This is the first time I’ve seen the Red Cross in action and I am very impressed. I plan to be a long time supporter for the Red Cross.

    I also want to give a big thank you to Target. They have been huge supporters to the shelter. I checked out their website and they work with both the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

  3. expat says:

    Excellent post. It’s often difficult to know how you can help, especially when you live a long distance from where things are happening.

    One exception to the recommendations, tho’, please consider simply donating to the Red Cross without specifying where your donation goes, since by the time you’ve made your donation, they have already earmarked funds and donated items from previous donors to help in the current relief efforts.
    They utilize publicity from each disaster for donation requests, not to fund that particular disaster, but to refill their now depleted coffers and supplies for the next one.

  4. Flea says:

    This should also convince folks if you live in a potential flood zone…make sure you have flood insurance. Some of these areas in Iowa were thought to never flood. Never take that for granted.


    Be A Survivor

  5. wen says:

    “they’re often made worse by a National Guard that’s stretched too thin with overseas deployments. Consider that issue when voting – we need a sufficient National Guard here at home to help out with disaster situations.”

    I agree with many of your statements (I’m also in Iowa – we flooded more than a week ago) However I strongly disagree with this statement.

    My husband is Iowa Guard. He’s sandbagged in DesMoines for several days, they’ve since moved to Burlington. At this moment, they are sitting because Burlington doesn’t know how to put them to use.

    There are more than 2000 Soldiers and Airmen working in Iowa right now, with others who have been notified but not yet activated for flood duty. They will be called up when they are needed and can be put to use. They are not stretched too thin – in fact, IANG is well over 100% strength.

    As an Army wife for 16 years, with a husband who has seen multiple deployments both overseas and here in our state I appreciate your concern for the troops, but please leave the politics out of it. It’s not helpful – a majority of what the world hears about our military comes from politicians (from either side of the aisle) who have no clue what they are talking about or are trying to distort things to their political advantage.

  6. Liz says:

    One of the best investments we can make is to help those in time of need.

    Great post.

  7. Cedar Rapids is my hometown! I’m so sad to see it featured all over the news because of the disaster. I’ve got another one that has been bothering me…if you live there, donate your time! No one in my family has helped out there, and I don’t really understand that. I wish I could go home to sandbag; unfortunately, I’m on a business trip!

  8. AstroZombieDC says:

    Trent, I’m glad you mentioned donating blood. I donate every 56 days, which is as often as you’re allowed to donate. They come to my work, so I don’t even have to do anything special.

    A funny story about the first time I gave blood. I signed up a week in advance when I noticed that the Red Cross was coming to my work. In the meantime, Hurricane Katrina happened. Then, giving blood took on a whole new meaning besides getting free cookies and a soda.

    A few weeks after donating, I received a letter in the mail from the local Red Cross calling me a hero for donating during our national crisis. I didn’t mean to be a hero though…I just wanted free cookies! The letter made me so happy that I decided that I was going to give blood every time I can since then. I’ve missed a few donating times here or because I was sick or away from the office, but I’ve given around 15 times since Katrina.

    Please everybody…if you are eligible to give blood, do it. It’s not scary or painful at all, and since this is a frugal website I’ll add this: Giving blood doesn’t cost any money, only about 1.5 hours of your time, and it helps tremendously. And, you often get something special like a t-shirt as token of appreciation.

  9. Cheri says:

    Good post, and thanks for starting with a Red Cross donation. Donations of clothing and goods may be helpful in one’s own city; but as a disaster response coordinator, I can report that donations of goods create a huge burden in recovering areas — the sorting, the storage, etc. — presenting more problems than they solve. The impulse to help is great — money, even small amounts, is the way to do it effectively and efficiently. An alternative if you just have to DO something from a distance: check out the Church World Service website for ways you can donate to or create clean-up and health kits.

  10. akb says:

    ok, as a katrina refugee, i gotta say this, with all irony included. ” Why would anyone live in a flood plane? you knew someday it may flood!”

    hahaha. ok. sorry. yea, i give, but not to the red cross, cause i have a bone to pick with them over efficacy and a few other things i dont want to go into. just had to put that out there as a contrast, and becuase im a bit bitter about hearing that about new oreans SO MANY times. maybe not from here, but from enough places to know the thought was ubiquitous.

  11. Lisa says:

    akb – The thought was NOT ubiquitous. I live in a flood plain and it never even occurred to me. I’m sorry for your loss and the horrendous way the Katrina disaster was handled. I hope we find a way to learn from it.

  12. ShootDawg says:

    living in Columbus, Indiana, were we flooded last weekend. my home was not damage. unfortunately, a lot of folks were not as lucky.

    the entire world is a flood plain, it just depends on what happens. Dams, levees break…more areas are flooded… getting 10+ inches of rain in a few hours, more areas are flooded (expecially if the ground is already saturated from twice the annual rainfall). polar ice caps all metl, entire world can be flooded. (please dont debate global warming, not what this post is about..

    red cross was first on the scene, setting up shelters that night (saturday, and have continued to have a shelter as well.)
    they have started the past two days to provide money to folks for food, water, clothes, rent, etc. That started Thursday. Fema opened up shop late Saturday and are starting to help folks.

  13. david sellers says:

    another place to donate is with umcor, which remains months and years with the disaster communities long after the initial recovery has happened. they do relief supplies – http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/getconnected/supplies/
    and then coordinating recovery effort (mgt, etc.). they are one of the few nonprofits left helping still in MS with Katrina recovery.

  14. Lenore says:

    I’m glad to hear the National Guard is at full capacity in Iowa and appreciate their brave efforts. I also applaud Trent for touching on the impact of their overseas deployment on homeland security and disaster relief. I’d love to leave politics out of natural disasters, but didn’t Katrina teach us it can be deadly to trust our leaders’ compassion and competency? (How ironic that the President who avoided serving in Vietnam by joining and deserting the National Guard would be the first to send them outside our borders to fight.)

  15. deepali says:

    Just an FYI, unless you live near the disaster, your blood donation doesn’t actually go to victims of that disaster. But there are always people near you in mini-disasters that could use it. So if you are eligible, please do it, and do it often (sadly, I am not eligible).

    And please don’t send your old clothes to disaster zones. Donating to worthy organizations (like Red Cross) is much more useful.

  16. jm says:

    “the entire world is a flood plain, it just depends on what happens.”

    I don’t live in a flood plain. In fact, if my neighborhood floods, we have bigger problems than whether we have flood insurance.

    As for the national guard, I never got why they are deployed overseas in the first place. I mean, they are the *national* guard. What definition of the word ‘national’ (as applied to the USA) includes Iraq? I would strongly consider joining the PA guard, but we are one of the most widely deployed overseas because of some specialties we have that apparently the regular army does not. How messed up is that?

    As for giving blood, I too try to give every 56 days. Even if its not going outside of my region, having an adequate blood supply *in* our region assures that the red cross won’t have to divert more resources here should something happen. Plus giving blood is a good early warning system for blood conditions like anemia, iron deficiency, and blood-borne diseases. They test all the blood they get, so its like getting a clean bill of health every 2 months. Not that I’m worried so much about the disease, but I am at risk for anemia, so its just another layer of protection.

  17. RJ says:

    Response to akb’s message ” ok, as a katrina refugee, i gotta say this, with all irony included. ” Why would anyone live in a flood plane? you knew someday it may flood!”

    Wrong – these people didn’t know it would flood here. Who are you to say such things, since most Katrina victims like you lived below sea level. This flood stretched well beyond what had been deemed as a 500 year flood plane. No one since Lewis & Clarke first travelled through this part of the country has ever seen anything like this. The only record before that would come from ancient stories from the native Americans here. I don’t recall hearing any story of such possible flooding. If you had ever been to this area you would realize that there are very few places in the United States that would be less prone to flooding unless it were in the mountains.

  18. RJ says:

    aka – Maybe I should apologize as I now see that you may have been speaking “tongue-in-cheek”. It has been an emotionally stressful time. I live here in Cedar Rapids and our house is on very high ground, but we have had less fortunate relatives staying with us. They were flooded and they live 8 miles from the devastation you have might have seen in Cedar Rapids. This is a statewide disaster and soon to be nation-wide problem.

  19. Nicole says:

    I’m having a blood drive on my blog as my June challenge. The winner (a random drawing of blood donors) will win a copy of the book “Nickeled and Dimed”. I’m trying to get 50 pints of blood donated. I do hope some of you will participate, as blood donations are needed more critically in summer and especially during national crises!

  20. Deborah says:

    Please don’t forget the animals when you are looking for donation opportunities. Some of the most heartrending stories about Katrina and it’s aftermath involved the thousands of pets, livestock, and zoo animals displaced by the flooding or separated from/abandoned by their owners. The Humane Society of the United States (www.humanesociety.org) can use your help. You can also contact animal rescue organizations within Iowa for more information. A site with names and phone numbers is http://www.midwestpetfinder.com/iowa_shelters.htm

  21. Rachel says:

    Also be sure to use i’m if you use Windows Live Messenger at work. Microsoft has given 1.5 million to the Red Cross just from this initiative. And its free to users:

  22. Anna says:

    Giving blood is a wonderful way to help save a life. Blood is always needed; not just during times of disaster. Please keep in mind that the American Red Cross is not the only organization where you can donate blood, and the ARC does not collect blood in all areas.

    To find the blood center nearest you, visit http://www.aabb.org/Content/Donate_Blood/Where_to_Donate

  23. bentley says:

    Another way to help is to send Flood Buckets. A flood bucket is a lidded bucket filled with cleaning supplies. The idea is, you put one together (see link below for list), send it to Louisiana, and they distribute it where it’s needed.

    According to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s May 2008 press release, “1728 flood buckets have been shipped so far in 2008 to flood-affected areas.”

    More information:

    (Disclaimer: I’m not connected in any way with this organization. I’m not even Methodist. I just think flood buckets sound like a good idea.)

  24. Pearl says:

    Thank you for posting about this. My hometown is Cedar Rapids and I have family scattered all over Eastern Iowa. I live in Japan right now and am having an impossible time finding any detailed information from the national news online.

    I was fortunate that no one in my family was touched by the flood, but Paramount Theater which I have many memories of playing music in, and the library where I spent so many hours discovering the world as a child, is ruined. Seeing the pictures of the people whose homes were affected makes me cry. It saddens me to see this news of this tragedy swept under the debased sensationalism on CNN.

  25. Amy K. says:

    Something that won’t help the flood victims, but will help your area prepare for a disaster: the Citizen Corps and related programs. Last year I participated in a pandemic practice/flu clinic with the Medical Reserve Corps: free flu shots, and we got to practice traffic control, orderly registration, crowd control, etc. I was goaded into joining after flooding in our area two years ago. I felt like I should help, but didn’t know how to do so without getting in the way, or where I’d be most useful. Being a trained volunteer makes sure you are where you’re needed, and know what to do (or at least who to ask). Even if you don’t volunteer directly, participating in their disaster drills helps them be prepared for emergencies.

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