Local Leaders | Spirituality: When 'helping' is really a hindrance

There is an old saying: sometimes it is better to be harmless than helpful.

This phrase has come to mind a great deal this week as Australia responds to the unfolding bushfire crisis. Like me, I'm sure many of you have been feeling scared, anxious, angry, overwhelmed and helpless as images have played out on the nightly news.

Unfortunately, out of our own sense of anxiety and helplessness in crisis, we can sometimes begin to offer help to others in ways that are not requested or indeed always helpful.

That is, we can do the right things for the wrong reasons.

A good example of this is the desire to donate 'things' lying around our house: clothes, furniture and so on, when the people who have been evacuated actually have nowhere to store such items. Consequently, charities can become inundated with items which will never be used and cost a great deal to dispose of later.

Over the last week I have been working in an evacuation centre as part of the coordinated government response to the crisis. This response is not impromptu but consists of agencies and volunteers who have spent hours training and preparing for these kinds of disasters.

In such centres, various agencies work together on a set of pre-determined tasks coordinated by the government and local emergency management committees. Red Cross provides registration of people and family reunification; Anglicare provides personal effects such as toiletries and clothing; Local Land Services provides shelter for pets and large animals; the Salvation Army cooks meals; the Uniting Church coordinates chaplaincy; and, the Department of Communities and Justice (formerly FACS) organises accommodation.

If you want to help, in the short-term, please consider giving money to any of the above agencies or the wonderful RFS. Alternatively, be harmless, and allow these agencies to respond.