Watching news of a community disaster is heartbreaking. But when it’s your community, your landmarks, your beloved faces and places, heartbreak has a way of morphing into something else entirely—action, and a powerful desire to help.
I know this first hand. I used to call Colorado home, and not long ago the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history devoured our county—80,000 acres in a day, incinerating homes, ripping through Rocky Mountain National Park and displacing hundreds of people who evacuated with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Some friends and I had already started a nonprofit dedicated to rallying volunteers and collecting donations to assist those in need during Covid-19. Our little operation was evacuated from its church basement location to the local elementary school, and overnight swelled to tons of food, water, boots, hats, mittens, warm clothing, underwear, pajamas, medicine, pet food, and more.
I learned through that experience that the desire to help is powerful; people just need to know the best ways. And the best way to help, always, is to listen to the people most impacted, and to put aside our own grief or needs or ideas about what’s helpful.
Our friends in the Gaylord community are hard at work caring for those affected, and are the boots on the ground of this disaster. I’m sharing what I learned, as well as the requests from the folks who are actively handling this crisis.
1. Make a Cash Donation
A donation sent online to the correct, reputable recipients can instantly go to buying gas, baby formula, underwear, a warm new blanket, feeding first responders, or supporting recovery efforts.
Here are some places accepting cash donations:
2. Volunteer to Support Gaylord
Volunteer in the way you are needed, not the way you wish to show up. This is a hard one—we had big-hearted people traveling from all over the country wanting to help in the aftermath of the fire, but we were already strapped for housing and shelter for the fire victims. Volunteers coming in from afar created a Covid risk at the time, and needed to be fed, housed, instructed and handled. What we needed was for volunteers to commit their time in the future, for replanting and rebuilding.
How to Volunteer | The best way to be prepared for volunteer opportunities is through the Volunteer Center at the Otsego County United Way. To register, visit their official website.
3. Donate Requested Items
Only donate what is requested. If the local responders need work gloves or instant noodles, get those exactly; if they don’t need bottled water or used household items, don’t bring them. Bringing heaps of used or unsolicited donations creates another crisis that requires volunteers to process and dispose of unusable items.
Current needs are:
- Gas cards
- Cleaning supplies
- Hand/face/body cleansing wipes, first aid kits
- Food gift cards
- Work gloves
- New bras
- Phone chargers
- Minute cards for prepaid cell phone
- Infant needs include diapers, formula, food, and pacifiers
Where to Donate | All in-kind items for donation can be dropped off at Otsego County United Way’s Community Services building 116 E 5th St, Gaylord, MI 49735 – (989) 732-8929. If you need to arrange a pick of items or need more info, please call KHYP or text (989) 448-6654.
Out of Area Donations | If you or anyone you know is interested in shipping items for an in-kind donation from online from outside of the city limits via Amazon or from an online store, please send it to The Karing Home Youth Project, PO Box 693 Gaylord MI 49735 and we will deliver it to Otsego County United Way.
Our heartbreak can be harnessed into a powerful force for good; in the wake of a disaster, communities come together and knit stronger ties. I’ve seen kindness and generosity that changed me forever. Any gesture we can make, big or small, will impact our friends and neighbors in the North in ways that we may never realize, but spread hope and comfort that is so badly needed.