When Help Is a Hindrance


Give and Take

Well, part of our Alberta forest is still burning. During the worst of this fire a region of 88,000 people had to be evacuated. The entire city of Fort McMurray was evacuated. Thankfully no one died from fire. The evacuation was amazing and firefighters from near and far have been doing an excellent job of fighting the down side of nature vs man.

Alberta is a very charitable province. People volunteer in large numbers, and like to donate things in large amounts. So far people have been actively donating to the Edmonton Emergency Relief Society. This is great because the items on their most needed list are not cheap. I hadn’t realized the high price of baby diapers and formula; but cost did not stop thousands of people across Canada from donating those items.

While some people have respected the “Needs” donations list, others, with good intentions have disregarded the list of criteria and taken it upon themselves to donate used clothing and items. Along with these donations of unrequested and forbidden items has been some hurt feelings, frustration, and anger. No one likes to be told that their act of charity and offer of help is not wanted and will not be accepted. No one likes to be turned away at a donation centre while others are welcomed with open arms, a huge thank-you, and a smile.

While I want to be compassionate towards those who honestly are only trying to help fill a need that they think needs to be filled, I am simultaneously frustrated with people who don’t understand that despite their best of intentions they are not helping those in need; instead, they are hindering those in need.

Hindrance:A person or thing that makes a situation difficult; (b) the act of making it difficult for someone to act or for something to be done.” (Webster’s Dictionary)

Help:To do something that makes it easier for someone to do a job, to deal with a problem, etc.; (b) to aid or assist someone; (c) to make something less severs; to make something more pleasant or easier to deal with.” (Webster’s Dictionary)

Armchair_Firefighter Definition
Armchair Firefighter: A person on social media sites who like to tell people what firefighters should and shouldn’t be doing to put out a massive forest fire despite never having been a firefighter.

When we choose to do acts of kindness during disasters, it’s important that we not make it about what we think is right. In our desperation to help we can easily begin to develop a mindset that unconsciously says, “I know better than the disaster relief experts. I know what they need more than the organizers.” I was amazed at how many Albertans suddenly became experts in Firefighting despite never having put out anything bigger than a backyard fire pit. There were also those who within 24 hours of the mandatory evacuation became specialists in mass emergency evacuation planning. It didn’t matter that every single person in the city of Fort McMurray was saved from the fire; despite some of them having to slowly and literally drive through an inferno to get to safety at the nearest evacuation centre several hours away.

It was difficult for me to sit back during those first few days and not be actively volunteering my time towards this crisis’s biggest need for help; but I had to remind myself that I was battling a major migraine and congested from allergies. I would not have been helping anyone by dragging my dizzy self down to a warehouse to help accept and sort donations. I had to resort to donating a small amount of money with the hope that yes, it would make a difference when combined with the other small amounts that others have given.

Help without expectations

Before you decide to be of help to organizations during an emergency or crisis we can all stop and ask our self the following questions:

  • Am I providing what the agency has requested and following their instructions? If the answer is “No”, then don’t volunteer yourself or your goods. Take those items to another place that has asked for what you have. Volunteer where you will be a good fit.
  • Am I doing this for myself or those in need? If the answer is “Myself”, then do the Christian thing by not posting your good deeds all over social media. If God and those you helped are the only one’s who know what you’ve done to help, then that’s good enough.
  • Do I need a tax receipt before I agree to give money? If the answer is “Yes”, then your charity might be selfish. There is nothing wrong with requesting a tax receipt, however there are times when helping others won’t come with a donation tax receipt. There are countless ways your money will help others but unfortunately won’t qualify for a receipt, do it anyways.
  • Do you expect a thank you and appreciation from every single person who is helped by your generosity? If the answer is “Yes”, then you’re in for a big surprise. Sometimes people who are in the midst of trauma and shock are not the nicest mood. They are lacking sleep, they are scared, they are frightened. They have no idea what tomorrow holds. These desperate persons are not always in a smiling, happy mood; especially when what they need in that moment is not available to them. If you give to others with the expectation that you will be appreciated, you might need to volunteer behind the scenes or not at all. Highly emotional volunteers are not helpful and only add problems to an already tense environment.

I wish I could say that I’ve always been a help rather than a hindrance, but that would be a lie. Thankfully I’ve learned a lot over the years by being an active volunteer. These lessons have allowed me to remember to be thankful for behind the scenes organizers whose work often goes unnoticed and misunderstood.

To those who help during emergencies and crises; whether paid, volunteer, or donor; you are awesome! You, yes you have made a difference big and small in someone else’s life.  No one forgets an act of kindness and help during their greatest times of need. Don’t ever let your heart be hardened by this world. Be discerning, be wise, and keep being kind hearted. Peace.