Simple Ways You Can Help Children Affected by Tragedy or Disaster

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Each time I talk to my kids about a natural disaster or an act of violence that affects families, they ask the same question: How can we help? My daughter was in kindergarten when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the east coast. And she was desperate to help in some small way. She thought about the things that make her feel cozy and warm and organized a sweatshirt drive to provide warm clothing to kids in need. She collected over 150 sweatshirts during a three-week period. Then she sent them to a charity that dispersed them to local kids in need.

Honestly, the thing that is most needed when disaster strikes is money. But many people feel the urge to help in a more hands-on way. Truth be told, I helped my daughter research the idea and contacted several charities to find out what goods were most needed at the time. We took that information, and she formulated her plan. Her first instinct was to start wrapping up her own toys so that kids would have things to play with.

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The call to action is strong when we see others suffering. But it’s important to slow down and provide the help that is needed instead of supplying the things we think others might need. The holiday season is just around the corner, and many families all across the country will need help for a variety of reasons. From homes lost to hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, to families ripped apart by horrific shootings, American families need one another. And helping is a great way to teach kids the power of lending a hand.

Consider these steps before you jump into action so that you and your family can help in a meaningful way.

Cash donations help

Monetary donations help larger charities get resources in place quickly and efficiently. One thing that happens fairly regularly is that people donate immediately when disaster strikes, but it takes a long time for communities to recover from major disasters. Space out your donations or consider monthly donations to help provide relief over a long period of time.

Kids can help with monetary donations by running lemonade stands, collecting coins, or even starting schoolwide initiatives to raise money for communities in need. It’s amazing how much money can be collected simply by placing a relief jar at the entrance of the school.

Do your research

Sometimes local charities seek help with certain goods that are needed on an immediate basis. After Houston flooded, for example, diapers, and wipes were badly needed. Amazon made it easy to donate these items right away.

Take your time to find out how you can help with material goods or your time. If you happen to live near a disaster site, find out how you can donate your time. Helping make sandwiches at a shelter or cleaning out homes following a flood, for example, require people power. Donating your time helps families get back on their feet.

Consider comfort items

Little kids need their comfort items during times of disaster, and many lose those very touchstones when they flee from natural disaster or violence. Consider a drive to collect new teddy bears and loveys for little ones and find a shelter or children’s organization willing to donate. Take your time on this one. Natural disasters can make it nearly impossible to access the areas that need the most help. While these items are important for children, it’s important to find an organization that can accept and distribute them. 

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Many children will live in shelters and temporary housing following natural disasters and tragedies. Small backpacks stuffed with art supplies, books, and a small toy or comfort item can provide some emotional relief and a feeling of ownership for young children. Living in transition and recovering from disaster is exceptionally difficult. Small items can make a big difference.

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Simple Ways You Can Help Children Affected by Tragedy or Disaster

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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