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How to Help When the Smoke Clears

By Lauren Littauer Briggs
Author of The Art of Helping The smoke is billowing out of the canyons as I look out my windows, flames of devastating proportion are showing on every television network and I feel powerless. There is nothing I can do to change what is happening. It seems there is nothing I can do to help.

My family home was nearly lost in a Southern California wildfire when I was a teen. I know what it is to be told to evacuate and look through your home for one last time wondering if you will ever return. What can I take? What must be left behind?

I helped a family who lost everything when their home exploded from a fireball in the Panorama Fires of 1980. While we cannot change what has happened, we can each do something. It's not complicated, it's simple. It's not time-consuming, in fact, it is energizing because we are helping instead of sitting. Don't feel pressured to do something you are not good at or to do everything suggested here. Instead, choose one or two things that you can do.

What to Say:

  • "I can't begin to imagine what this must be like for you. I want to help." Make a specific offer of what you can do to help.

  • "Nothing can undo this tragic loss, but I want to work with you as you rebuild your life."

  • "You have been on my heart ever since I heard the news. I am available to_____." State what you are planning to do.

  • "I've been a part of many wonderful times in your home." Then share one with them.

What to Do:

  • Make a Donation to the American Red Cross - So. Cal. Fire Relief Fund.

  • Go to evacuation shelters and volunteer to serve food, hand out supplies.

  • Show up to help clear the debris with shovels, boxes, trashcans and pick-up trucks.

  • Bring food, drinking water, cases of soda, containers of coffee, for those who are helping.

  • Get clothing sizes and purchase clothing essentials such as T-shirts, underwear, jeans, nightgowns, robes, and jackets.

  • Offer computer access or download and print out emails for the family.

  • Be the spokesperson for the family, forward calls to your number, and provide updates by phone or email. Maintain the family email list and send out news and requests.

  • Package good quality clothing according to size and gender and deliver to shelters or community centers. Don't bring old and worn out castoffs.

  • Invite a family to dinner.

  • Purchase journals to record memories of special things that happened in the home, items that were lost and sentimental stories.

  • Provide linens such as towels, wash clothes, bedding and blankets.

  • Paper goods such as paper plates, paper towels and toilet paper are always needed.

  • Stay in continual contact even after the dust has settled. There is so much to be done.

  • Plan a starting over shower with both practical gifts like appliances, linens and tableware as well as some nonessentials like a crystal bud vase or delicate set of stemware.

  • Send light, humorous reading material. Concentration levels are very low, but easy to read distractions are welcome.

What to Write in a Card

  • I can't believe this happened! I will be with you, and together we will work to rebuild your lives.

  • You are a precious friend. May you find the courage to face tomorrow as you rest in the knowledge that we care.

  • May the love of those who care deeply surround you during this difficult time.

  • You are in my heart and I want you to know that I care about you and your family. I would like to spend every Monday with you, helping you _______.

  • What lies ahead must seem overwhelming. Know that I am here for the long haul. Rest in the knowledge that I care and will be here for you.

You can make a difference. Commit to reach out, show you care, be on hand to listen, support and love the families who have lost so much. You may be the one light they have in the midst of a very dark and stormy sea.

Lauren Littauer Briggs new book, The Art of Helping, touches a felt need we all experience -- wanting to help a hurting person, but not always knowing what to say or do. Both practical and inspirational, this book combines sound tips and suggestions, reference charts summarizing what to say and do in comforting situations, plus poignant personal stories to create a complete guidebook for anyone seeking guidance on how to effectively help a hurting friend or loved one in a time of crisis.

Give to Operation Blessing Disaster Relief

Order your copy of The Art of Helping from Shop CBN

More from Lauren Littauer Briggs

Lauren Littauer Briggs Through her speaking and writing, Lauren Littauer Briggs encourages people with her heartfelt messages and practical presentations. Lauren holds a degree in psychology. As the daughter of nationally known speaker and author Florence Littauer, she comes by her speaking and writing talents naturally. You can send her your comments at


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