Daily Journal

Images of flood devastation in South Carolina are nearly incomprehensible. Streets are turned into streams, streams become rivers and rivers look like lakes.

Entire neighborhoods were under water. Thousands of residents have been displaced. At least 10 dams have failed, adding even more water to downstream areas. Tragically, at least 17 people have died.

The damage is incalculable at the moment, and the cleanup and rebuilding will take months.

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Our hearts go out to the displaced people and the families of the victims. We here in Johnson County speak from experience. We know about flooding, its aftermath and the physically and emotionally draining recovery process.

Over the next several weeks, we will be asked to help out in the recovery process in South Carolina; and many of us will respond quickly and eagerly. But our response needs to be measured and done carefully in order to do the maximum good possible.

First, as we watch families picking through the sodden remnants of their homes, we will be tempted to pack up unused clothing and household items and ship them off to South Carolina to give to the displaced people. But at the moment, the last thing these folks need is a semitrailer filled with donated items.

But flood victims don’t need clothing at the moment. They need professionally directed assistance cleaning up and then getting started rebuilding.

So for now, the best thing we can give is money.

But even here, we must be careful about how we channel our generosity. Make sure your gifts go to mainstream organizations that are best positioned to help those in need. The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Catholic Relief Services or other similar organizations already have administrative structures, staff and policies in place to make sure donated money goes where it can achieve the greatest good. In addition, these organizations can buy cleanup supplies in bulk, making your donated dollars go further.

Finally, don’t be too quick to offer your services to the relief effort. Work through a recognized relief agency, and remember that the rebuilding process will take months. Here in Johnson County, volunteers from Church of the Brethren’s nationwide disaster response group were still working 18 months after the June 2008 flood, helping to rebuild damaged homes. So your efforts might be better applied if you waited before volunteering and heading for the hardest-hit areas.

Our hearts go out to the disaster victims in the Southeast. And when you are asked to help out in the relief effort, be strategic in giving your time and your treasure to make sure each has the maximum effect.

At issue

Scenes of devastating flooding in South Carolina will prompt many people to help in the relief effort.

Our point

Working through established relief agencies will make donations more effective.