Jenn Fields
Jenn Fields

As I sit down to write this on Sunday morning, my husband is heading out to join friends volunteering to shovel mud and flood debris in Boulder. Another friend asks me where she can donate clothing. Her basement flooded, and now that she's gotten everything out of it, she's looking for a way to help others. (She ended up helping rip out someone's water-soaked carpet.)

Another friend, who has been using crutches or a cane lately because of an injury, is hauling flood-damaged carpet and drywall in a trailer to the dump for friends.

Everyone I know has wanted to help since this all started last week. But it's not easy to know how, or even how to talk about helping. So I talked with Andi O'Conor, a Fourmile resident and former University of Colorado professor who lost her home in the 2010 fire. After the fire, she started a blog, Burning Down the House, about her experience, and she spent her weekend helping people to know how to help.

"Someone called me last night and said, can you remind people not to say, 'oh it's just stuff,'" O'Conor said. "That is one of the most hurtful, infuriating things you can hear, especially from someone who didn't lose anything. They're trying to console you, and it's not consoling at all."


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One of the best ways to help, in O'Conor's experience, is to give gift cards. She suggests giving cards for grocery stores, Target or McGuckin's.

"Some people say restaurant gift cards are the best," she said. "But you're in no shape, you've been pumping water, you're dirty. Any grocery store with a deli is great, you can go get a sandwich and go back to what you're doing."

Finally, she said, just go help.

"If people want to get together and start their own support network, do it," she said. "This is an all-hands-on-deck situation."

"Right after the fire, I went into the free store (for Fourmile survivors), and one of the sororities had done a project with toiletries for survivors. ...I picked one out of the basket —- and I'm going to cry thinking about it — and it had a tag on it that said 'always stay strong.' And it's a total stranger. That's some sorority woman. ...I still have it, I still have that card."

"Just say, 'I'm so sorry, how can I help?' And then go help."

For more tips on helping flood survivors, go to http://burningdownthehouseblog.com/how-to-help-disaster-survivors.