We Meant Well

Bruce McCullen is the Senior Vice President for Partner Relations at FLASH.  Bruce learned an important lesson after Andrew that continues to present a challenge to volunteer community to this day.

When Hurricane Andrew made Landfall on August 24, 1992, I was working as an insurance sales manager in Orlando, FL. As a native Floridian and having been through many hurricanes over the years, I knew that it would be bad, but Andrew redefined my definition of bad. Only hours after the destruction occurred, everyone around me was deeply affected by the images of complete devastation. A group of employees began to organize a drive for donations of clothes, blankets, food, toys, toiletries, water, ice and just about anything else we could think of to try to help. We rented the biggest U-Haul truck available and stacked it high with all the goods we could. Three volunteers hopped in the cab and headed off to Homestead to try to help. All of us felt really good about the activity and hoped for the best. What we didn’t know was just how difficult this act of kindness was going to be for the folks on the ground in Homestead to accept and distribute. The confusion and frustration of residents that had been through the horrific events were only compounded by the process of trying to receive and distribute the donated items.

While the supplies were certainly appreciated and eventually made their way to the people that needed them most, the process taught us all a lesson. In large-scale disasters, the best thing you can do is donate money to an organization that can get help to the people affected the fastest. The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross have processes set up and volunteers on the ground to help coordinate and distribute the supplies as needed. In fact, today this practice is widely accepted and used extensively in most disasters. This is just one of the groundbreaking lessons taught by Andrew.

About a month later, I traveled to Homestead on business and will never forget just how the images on television did not nearly convey the depth and breadth of the destruction. As we know now, the rebuilding literally took years and the scars inflicted by Andrew can still be seen if you look close enough. So for all the well-intentioned, generous people who want to clean out the closet or the garage to help victims of disasters, I have a bit of advice. Be generous with your wallet and let the professionals do the rest.

Tomorrow Tim Smail talks about the moment he realized that there was a better way to build safe homes for families at risk for natural disasters…

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