As Mother Nature reminds us who’s in control, trying to wrap your head around the incredible devastation and loss that is happening right now can be mind numbing. How on earth can you help the victims of the latest natural disasters when you can barely hold onto your own chaotic life? I get it. As a single mom, my daily struggles are real and trying to find ways to help others seems so overwhelming and intimidating.
So, I decided to reach out to my mentor and philanthropist Sophie Azouaou and asked for some advice. Sophie has been helping the less-than-fortunate folks in San Francisco for decades. From doing pro bono shelter remodels, helping abused children, to raising thousands of dollars for individuals suffering with AIDS. She has been a pillar of strength to those in need. In her twenties, she left her home in France and came to the United States knowing only one person. She became a successful interior designer and green expert, but her true calling was helping others and giving back to the community.
Sophie’s passion for finding creative ways to give was taught to her by her grandfather. He was the doctor in a small village in the South of France and Sophie says that her grandfather’s philosophy of sharing whatever you’ve got has been her driving force. You don’t need money to contribute!
“He never refused to see anyone because they couldn’t pay him, so many nights he would come home with fruits he got as payment and my grandmother would just shake her head. He died as an icon of love and respect in our village.”
Sophie understands that not everyone can write a big check. So, she has given us some thoughtful—yet simple ideas for ways you can be of service during these very difficult times.
“It makes sense that volunteering may have fallen off your radar screen during these trying economic times, but the need for help is greater than ever, and contrary to popular belief, lending a hand doesn’t have to cost you a thing.”
1. GO SOCIAL: Sophie’s favorite! Use the power of social media to connect virtually with the victims. Set up a social media page with your friends with a dedicated #hashtag, where you can offer prayers, comfort, inspirational quotes, and let them know you’re involved. They will have access to it 24/7 like a hotline. Through your page you can also send a list of resources: everything from car shares, food banks, to things they can get free. Also, find stores who will extend special discounts to the victims and create a list. Let's say you get construction companies who want to help, so list them on your page. Give them love through the page. Love travels and will be felt and received! Here is a Help Harvey page on facebook to give you some ideas. @helpharveyvictimsnow
2. MATCH SKILLS: Nonprofits are managed by small staffs and are finding it more difficult to find people to help out. Well, this is your chance! Search databases like Idealist, VolunteerMatch, and Red Cross Volunteer Connection to find volunteer opportunities that best suit your interests. Have a car? Drive. Like cooking? Prepare food. Administrative skills? Social network savvy? Set up a website or facebook page for a nonprofit.
3. HOST: Open up home for few days and host a displaced person or family. Give someone a warm place to stay, it will also be a good reality check for you and a time to be grateful!
“Have extra airline miles you’re not using? Then donate them to someone in need.”
4. GIVE CLEANLINESS: Create a blanket, towel and cleaning supply brigade with your friends. Right now donations are flowing into the affected areas. But in a few weeks, people will need to move back into their homes, you can help by donating clean towels and cleaning supplies. Better yet, show up and help clean and organize!
5. LEND A HAND: Go to the affected areas if you can travel or live close, the power of a touch goes a long way. Time is of the essence when it comes to natural disasters. If you can get yourself where victims need you—go! Offer to be of service at one of the many places that need volunteers. Help move fallen trees or give backrubs—right now it’s needed. Check out Team Rubicon in Florida, they are looking for volunteers right now.
6. CREATE A CAMPAIGN: Maybe you don’t have the money to donate, but you can always set up a campaign to raise money. Say you’ll walk a 20 miles and ask for donations, or perhaps you can set up a giving tree at work or your kids’ school. Make sure that you have a reputable nonprofit attached to it. Tierney Jasper loves to help other people. Realizing the need for more accommodation for parents with children in hospital, Tierney walked a grueling 40 miles to raise $5,000 for Ronald McDonald House when she was just eight years old.
7. GIVE BLOOD: Blood banks need your blood. The need for blood is always higher during and after hurricanes. You can find blood donor banks on the Red Cross website here.
8. SAVE CHANGE: Do you really do anything meaningful with your change? Besides cursing the uselessness of pennies, I bet coins never crosses your mind. Let’s change that. In six months, we will have moved on and won’t remember the devastation and loss of these natural disasters. So, if you can’t give now, maybe empty the change out of your wallet each night and save it and put it in jar with a label saying: GRATITUDE. In six months, take it to a coins-to-cash kiosk or your bank and send the funds to one of the many local charities that will still need help. Mark your calendar for March 20th, that’s six months from today!
9. ADOPT A PET: Nicole Curran, along with the Warriors, Miami Heat, Fed Ex, and Peninsula Humane Society relocated 160 animals that were affected by Hurricane Irma to the Bay Area. The 160 animals include adult cats, adult dogs, puppies, and kittens. If you live in Northern California, you can visit the Peninsula Humane Society and find a new furry friend to take home or foster.
10. PROMOTE FAVORITES: I’m taking Sophie’s advice and that’s what I’m doing now....I’m promoting help for the British VIrgin Islands.....
For years I was lucky enough to be a guest of philanthropist and entrepreneur Ajit George’s British Virgin Islands Winemakers Dinners that raised important funds for the children of the BVI. During these magical trips to the British Virgin Islands I had the rare opportunity to spend time with Richard Branson on Necker Island and enjoy his generous and kind hospitality. Every time I visited, Ajit George and the lovely residence of the British Virgin Islands opened their homes to me and now those homes have been destroyed. I want to help my friends who so graciously hosted me for years. So please, give to the BVI Community Support Appeal.
For more specific donating, I’m promoting the rebuilding of Giorgio Paradisi Italian restaurant on the island of Virgin Gorda. For years Giorgio donated his time, food, and restaurant for fundraising...now he needs help. He wants to get his restaurant up and running so he can feed all those who are suffering in the BVI right now.
Now it’s your turn to be of service to others! Like Sophie humbly says: “Your simple acts of involvement can be your legacy, your gifts will be remembered long into the future #karma. How satisfying is that?”