Did something go wrong? Bring a casserole. While the type of barbeque may vary regionally, if you’re standing near storm damage, there’s likely a home-cooked meal on the way. Following a disaster, competent ladies fill church and school kitchens, turning out hundreds of sandwiches. Restaurants donate buffet trays of wings and lasagna. Community organizations host spaghetti dinner after spaghetti dinner, feeding survivors
and volunteers alike. Quite simply, we live in a casserole culture, and we can harness this tendency for a better local response.

Why, exactly, our knee-jerk reaction as a culture is to bake a pie in the face of
unthinkable loss, is anyone’s guess. I have a theory that our Norman Rockwell tendencies are linked directly to what we are told we can and cannot do after a disaster.

‘feed it to fix it’

Unless you happened to keep the FEMA National Incident Management Framework around for bedtime reading, you probably have no clue who is in charge of what on the ground after a disaster. Even if you do know what is supposed to happen, the practice is often far different than the plan. As an unaffiliated volunteer, you’re often sent home, told off, or simply not answered when you try to help.

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But food — that makes sense. The Red Cross won’t accept home-cooked donations, but local churches will. You’re greeted with thanks instead of confusion if you drop off sandwiches and Gatorade at a worksite. We, as a culture, have assumed permission to feed during a disaster, and we get after it. Think: Studs Terkel meets Paula Deen.

I, like you, love a good plate of mashed potatoes. But our “feed it to fix it” tendencies right now fall short of our potential to help out at the community level. Here are a few suggestions for building a better community recovery:

Use your skills

Yes, you can cook. But are you also a lawyer? Bilingual? Great with computers? Those skills are every bit as necessary to the recovery as Dunkin Donuts — survivors will need tax advice, translation and resource management help.

Use your head

The difference between lasagna and labor is that it is currently a painful process to volunteer skills through large, regional organizations. Your community can independently plan to share skills and resources before a disaster — just agree upon a system beforehand.

Use your leaders

Your emergency management department and city leadership can use your help. Can you start a Community Emergency Response team? Would you agree to help the EM run social media during a disaster? Get in touch and plan ahead!

Use this recipe: the singular best recipe for chocolate chip recovery cookies I have ever
encountered:

Catastrophe Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 6 to 7 ounces of chocolate chips
  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
  • Add the vanilla and egg, keep on mixing.
  • Mix dry ingredients together, then add slowly to the large bowl of wet ingredients.
  • If you’re patient, refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours.
  • If not, just go ahead and bake those cookies for 11-13 minutes.
  • Distribute to sweaty workers, affected families, stressed organizers, and your own family.

P.S. Check out our work in action this week at http://IsaacGulf.Recovers.org.

Caitria O’Neill is the CEO of Recovers.org. She received a B.A. degree in government from Harvard University in 2011. She has worked for Harvard Law Review and the U.S. State Department, and brings legal, political and editorial experience to the team. O’Neill has completed the certificate programs for FEMA’s National Incident Management System 700 and 800, and Incident Command Systems 100 and 200. She has also worked with Emergency Management Directors, regional hospital and public health organizations and regional Homeland Security chapters to develop partnerships and educate stakeholders about local organization and communication following disasters.