It isn’t sexy work – but it needs to get done

Chris Herlinger | February 15, 2013


Sometimes it takes an outsider to help you say what you want to say.

For years, those of us involved in our emergency response work have struggled with “the message” of what we do in the United States. It’s been a struggle because it isn’t sexy work; it’s long and drawn out, and the fruit it bears can take years.

We’re not involved in search and rescue missions, for example, which is often the image people have of those at a disaster scene. (Though our providing CWS Blankets and Kits DOES assist those in moments immediately after disaster strikes.)

What we do in domestic emergencies is help build the grassroots recovery infrastructure that helps the poorest survivors of a disaster – those who don’t have insurance, or very little, or are having trouble receiving (or finding) assistance of any kind. It’s “behind the scenes” work that doesn’t get a lot of attention – though we’ve been praised for it, as we’re old pros at it, and it’s work that ultimately has to be done.

We do this just like we do our work elsewhere in the world, by helping create local groups that will actually do the work. We provide training, funding and partnership so that recovery from disaster is sustainable in the long-term. And I have to underline long-term: It may take parts of New Jersey and New York a half decade or more to recover from Sandy.

Someone who understands what we’re about, and someone I take my hat off to, is Diane Riley, director of advocacy for theCommunity FoodBank of New Jersey. Riley’s is a great group that worked with CWS in the initial days after Hurricane Sandy – we provided the FoodBank with $107,754 in assistance, including CWS Blankets, Baby Care Kits, School Kits, Hygiene Kits and Emergency Cleanup Buckets.

When I talked to Riley a few weeks at a disaster recovery training we did at Toms River, N.J., she put it well: “A training like this helps people (disaster survivors) by empowering the people who can help them.”

Put another way, trainings like the one we did in Toms River give those who work “on the ground” and are trying to help disaster survivors the knowledge they need to help their communities recover faster and better. There is a lot of knowledge to master – it’s not an easy thing to navigate the thicket of issues like FEMA individual assistance, the ins and outs of managing construction volunteers, disaster case management and the real trials of emotional and spiritual care.

Sound easy? It isn’t – but at least we can tell people what we do with this simple line: that CWS is empowering those who empower others. That couldn’t be clearer (I hope!).

Thanks, Diane Riley.

by Chris Herlinger, a writer with CWS