One of the things we realized shortly after our home burned in February is that people do not know how to act towards you. That's okay - we didn't know how to act either. We found that many people rushed to help. Some bringing cash, some bringing household goods, some bringing clothes, some offering hot meals in their homes and some offering places to stay.
Many of those who gave to us were thanked and will always be remembered. Some who brought us things were politely refused and I think went away a little offended. This post is to try to describe the kinds of help victims of a house fire need most of all - especially in our case - we lost everything.
1) Cash. We didn't ask for cash until we saw that it was going to be impossible to continue living until the insurance money came in. Insurance companies don't just send you a check for living expenses once you are homeless. They may advance you a little. Ours did. But they won't settle up until you bring the receipts at the end of everything. And even then you will only pay additional living expenses. If you spent $100 a week on groceries before your home burned down but that went up to $200 a week because now you are eating out alot, the Insurance will only pay the difference- $100 per week. It still cost you $200. Cash flow is critical to the burned out family. We were always having to top off the gas tank in our truck just because we didn't know where we would need to go that day. Or we needed to go to the department store to get a container to hold all our receipts. A final hint: If you give the family cash and expect to get paid back either with money or a thank you card, if you will be offended if some form of repayment is made then keep your money. We thanked as many people as we could with cards, emails, etc. but I know we didn't get them all. It was not intentional. During that traumatic time, the last thing we thought of doing, or were even capable of doing is keeping an itemized list of who gave what. But here are some that gave cash that we did not thank appropriately. Arkansas Children's Hospital took up a collection from employees. We regularly got checks in the mail and often just in time to pay a bill or buy a tool that we needed in rebuilding. Conway Locally Grown. The farmers took up a collection, or donated a part of their sales to us and it was greatly appreciated. We were able to buy a computer for Patt to be able to continue internet sales, banking, and the computer was vital to our researching replacement costs for our insurance documentation. St. Andrews Anglican Church announced our troubles and checks started rolling in. So CASH is of primary importance.
2) Clothing. We lost everything. Our friends Clay and April from church visited us where we were staying at the Heiffer Project Lodge (6miles from our burned home and thanks to cash donations). They brought tubs and bags of male and female clothing. It being February, that kept us warm. It also let us get back to normal and me back to work. Although I did experience a wardrobe upgrade in the process. I went from a Target guy to a Dillards guy overnight. Thank you Clay and April!
3) Food. And not the traditional Baptist casseroles. We had no way to cook or keep large quantities. Arkansas Children's Cafe donated cold cuts and bread that we could keep. That was a blessing. People gave us gift cards to restaurants. And our friends the Chuck and Lucretia fed us several meals from their home in Perryville. Thank you Chuck and Lucretia. The cash donations also fed us.
4) Get-away things. Dr. Jerril Green offered us the use of his lake house should we need to take a break. Shonda, a nurse at the hospital gave us a Barnes and Noble gift card because she knew we lost all of our dear books. And the gift card let us buy the books we wanted when we were able to store them and have time to read.
Hopefully this will give some idea of what can be useful in a time like a house fire taking a family's life away. Some other ideas that occur to me are Day Care. Offer to keep the kids for a day or even a couple of hours. Pet sitting. My brother took our dogs to their home for a week or so. The Red Cross were there to offer us gift cards for essentials. I bought a heavy work coat and gloves, rubbermaid containers to carry everything around in.