The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

November/December 2005
DISASTER ASSISTANCE COMMITTEE REPORT
 
 

A Work In Progress

BY CRAIG TONJES, CHAIR

When John Rowan and I sat down to discuss the formation of this committee, we had common stories to relate. John spoke of 9/11 and the outpouring of VVA support and assistance from across the country. I had a similar story after Florida was assaulted by four hurricanes in 2004. After the devastation of Katrina and Rita, once again the response from VVA members all across the nation was nothing short of phenomenal.

The Disaster Assistance Committee was created in recognition of the heart of this organization to help and do our part. Our membership includes representatives from Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, and Pennsylvania. We are not a first-response organization along the lines of FEMA, the Red Cross, or the Salvation Army. Nor are our activities intended to be an indictment or judgment of those first-responders. Our experiences have taught us, however, that there is a role for VVA to play. Many of our members are on fixed incomes, barely meeting their day-to-day financial needs. If their homes are damaged, they often lack the resources to meet the deductibles, which are quite large in Florida for damage resulting from hurricanes.

Likewise, in 2004 following the barrage of hurricanes, we learned that some small communities and populations tended to slip through the cracks. Despite the best intentions of FEMA and others, many find themselves at the end of the supply train with substantial needs unmet. Responding to a hurricane is a logistical nightmare. I’ve learned that nothing is more satisfying than showing up in a stricken community with supplies that are desperately needed. But I’ve also experienced the frustration of showing up loaded with, say, water when they have plenty but need food, or diapers, or whatever we didn’t bring.

Based on our experiences, I’ve established some goals for this committee. Over the next year, we would like to produce a general “Disaster Assistance Guide” for state councils, chapters, and members. It will establish the appropriate organizational structure within VVA to accept and distribute donations and services. It will also provide a guide for members who would like to do more in their own and nearby communities.

Over the past couple of years, we have learned the “structure” of needs. In a hurricane, initially, water and ice are needed, but these needs are typically met quickly by first-responders. Within a few days, needs shift to other consumables: food, diapers, infant formula, and cleaning supplies. Knowing what is needed and when and where it is needed is critical to effective relief. The guide will identify the patterns of need so members, chapters, and state councils can better plan and execute relief efforts. We also want to be able to help our members. The guide also will outline how to identify those in need and who to contact for assistance.

The other charge for the committee is to establish organizational and communication links. This year and last, I was hit by two hurricanes. I knew chapters in Florida wanted to do something, but I was in no position to coordinate activities. Likewise, many wanted to know how I fared but were unable to reach me. The committee will be available to coordinate relief efforts from outside the area of destruction. The committee would provide a clearinghouse of information, so those in disaster areas can reach many with a single call, and those concerned can allay their fears without tying up phone lines.

Recently, an interchange passed through my e-mail. A member described an early blizzard in the Northern Plains that resulted in disrupted accessibility and power outages. An e-mail from another member asked if the Disaster Assistance Committee did anything to help. My short answer was no, because nobody asked. The committee was not established to act; rather, it reacts. If you know members hit by a storm, let us know so we can assess their needs and figure out how we can help. If a chapter in your area wants to reach out to help its community, let us know what you’d like to do and what you need to do it. If we can’t help directly, there’s a good chance we can draw on our experiences and help you find sources and resources.
 


This committee is a work in progress. You, the members, have demonstrated a clear desire to help when disaster strikes. We, the committee, want to help you do it right.

   

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