When Disaster Strikes, We Need Sustained Efforts

Older adults find it particularly difficult to recover

AARP Flood Donation

— Max Becherer/AP Photo

“You are at your very best when things are worst.”

I always think about that line from the movie Starman when I see how people respond to natural disasters such as the recent flooding that has devastated Louisiana. We really are at our best when we realize others need our help.

Individuals and organizations alike respond with extraordinary generosity, doing whatever they can in the immediacy of catastrophe to provide assistance.

At AARP Foundation we have established an emergency relief fund, and AARP is matching every contribution, dollar for dollar, up to $250,000. Many other charitable organizations are similarly coming forward to help.

But I also want to call your attention to the aftermath, when the television cameras have moved on. Too often, communities that have been severely crippled don’t get the longer-term help they need. Communities that are already poor are particularly at risk. Often, we just don’t pay attention to them unless something terrible has happened.

You need look no further than Louisiana. Almost 20 percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line (about $12,000 for an individual), the third-highest rate in the nation. Among children, the rate is a staggering 28 percent, fourth highest. Seniors are also finding it extremely difficult to get by in Louisiana: Some 52 percent of those 65 and older have less than twice the poverty level to live on, again one of the highest rates in the nation.

All this even before the flood waters started to rise.

Natural disasters strike indiscriminately, making no distinction between the young and the old, the rich and the poor. But low-income seniors face unique challenges. Older adults often have fewer financial resources to help them bounce back, or may face health or mobility issues that make recovering from a disaster extremely difficult, especially in the early days. When they lose their homes, they have less capacity to rebuild their lives. They need both immediate help and sustained support.

Louisiana is top of mind these days, and it’s wonderful to see how people across the country are responding. Indeed, this is an opportunity for all of us to put our good intentions into action.

But let’s also remember to be there tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that. Let’s keep Louisiana in our hearts and minds even after the flood waters have receded.

There are so many ways to help, whether it’s in Louisiana or in your own community. Reach out to organizations such as ours, and we’ll help show you how you can be there not just for catastrophes but for the difficulties too many people face every day.

We are a generous species. Let’s show that generosity not only in the worst moments. Let’s be there to help for the long term as well.

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