Editorial Answering a call for help from California

November 16, 2018

There are many interpretations of the meaning of Thanksgiving, but “unity” in an irrefutable part of this most American of holidays.

Unity is not merely gathering for a family feast. And it is more than a designated day to express gratitude for life’s abundances.

This is a time to ponder challenges, not just of self, friends and families, but the struggles of strangers. It is a time of mercy.

The California wildfires that are claiming lives, homes, and businesses some 3,000 miles away seem like something out of a 1970s disaster movie. More than 300,00 people have evacuated and nearly 9,000 homes have been destroyed. That’s more people than reside in Bridgeport and New Haven, combined. At least 59 people have died.

From this distance, we can’t quite believe it, and don’t want to believe it.

It is, we imagine, how many Californians might have felt on an unforgettable September morning 17 years ago when they saw fellow Americans suffer in a tragedy of man’s creation. Feelings of disbelief and helplessness.

America gets smaller in times like these, and there are ways to help these neighbors.

Stamford-based Americares is delivering care packages for survivors. Some fill needs that can easily be taken for granted, such as vaccines. Others are items few of us would imagine needing in our lifetimes, such as respirator masks and hygiene kits.

Needs became even more immediate for people who rely on routine medications, which may not have been within reach as they fled during this crisis, or in an adequate supply.

Sadly, organizations such as Americares have been busier than usual in recent months. The nonprofit, which houses supplies in a 50,000-square-foot distribution center in Stamford, responded to 35 emergencies in 2017. That’s 10 more than in 2016. Their staff is still assisting in Texas and Puerto Rico with the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Maria.

Connecticut Red Cross volunteers have responded to the scene from East Haven, Groton, Mystic, Plainfield and East Haddam. The agency provides shelter as well as equipment for people with functional challenges.

If you are looking to pitch in, take measures to ensure you are supporting legitimate agencies. Unfortunately, the worst of tragedies can inspire creative scam artists.

The nonprofit Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) confirms registered charities and rates them on how well donations are distributed. Americares has a 97.87 rating; Fairfield-based Save the Children scores at 88.30 and the American Red Cross is at 84.09.

These wildfires in California are the most destructive and deadliest in recorded state history. They will still be burning on Thanksgiving a week from now.

As you pause to give thanks on the holiday, consider the lives of these strangers who have lost their homes. Do what you can to join this united effort, to show that help is on its way from Connecticut.

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