Thursday, November 4

A strong dose of perspective

Last Saturday while my family was enjoying a carefree evening of dinner and trick-or-treating with friends, a fire started in a warehouse here in Stuttgart. Not just any warehouse. It held the household goods and cherished items of almost a hundred families arriving or departing the US Garrison here. Beds, children's bikes, pots and pans, hard drives, wedding and baby pictures . . . all gone. It took 350 firefighters until Tuesday to extinguish the final embers. Deliberate targeting of US goods is being investigated.

I know of two families that were set to move in on Monday and were in their empty new homes waiting for the trucks to deliver their things only to receive a call about the fire. Their kids were eagerly anticipating coming home from school to their own stuff and beginning to feel settled. These families have been living in hotels or with lending closet furnishings for days or even months now in transition.

Can you imagine how devastating? It's one thing to lose everything and another to anticipate the ordeal ahead to replace it all in a new country. But add to that navigating three bureaucracies for reimbursement? It just makes your heart break!

From what I understand, reimbursement for losses can be sought through these three avenues. First, the contracted shipping company/warehouse will reimburse just $4/lb, up to $50,000. The army insurance cap is $40,000 of detailed receipts, pictures and present value estimations are inventoried and submitted correctly. And lastly, some may have personal insurance to help cover losses. At first glance, those sums seem pretty adequate until you fathom the immediate needs to fully furnish a house from scratch versus the lengthy reimbursement process, particularly for those arriving here where the dollar isn't as strong as the euro. Furniture to eat, sleep and gather on (I think I've mentioned this is a land of no built in closets too); large and small appliances we rely upon for everthing; linens; clothes for the entire family beyond the suitcases they brought for fall; home electronics; baby gear and wardrobes . . . When we moved, we had shipped our car with our house goods and unfortunately some of these have as well.

I awoke this morning not being able to get their plight out of my mind. I don't know any of the families personally, only some as acquaintances of friends. I've been inquiring how these families will be helped with immediate needs. One was asking where to buy affordable light bulbs since it is customary in many German homes to have to outfit the home with bulbs and fixtures upon moving in. I think each bulb I bought recently was at least 2euros a piece. Many families are not offered housing on base now if above a certain rank and living on the economy can be shocking. Some apartments off post will often be without kitchen cabinetry or appliances and I've never heard of them having washer/dryers already.

Our ward is doing up some baskets for a new family in the ward that has been able to communicate a handful of needs. It will be difficult for so many to ask for help and accept it.

My friend whose husband is a chaplain said that after the Fort Hood shooting tragedy a year ago, the chaplains observed that they were in a good position to channel donations with more ease than many other efforts. They will likely dedicate some services to these families and collect tithes and offerings as well as set up a dedicated bank account that people can donate to. My friend has taken two affected families under their wings, having them over for dinners and even celebrated one of the daughters' birthdays.

My neighbor mentioned Operation Homefront to me and their work looks very admirable. She had told her her friend who was affected to set up a PayPal account, an Amazon Wish List, a Target registry and so on so people can buy them things they actually need and like or cover Christmas gifts. We're checking our baby clothes stashes for winter stuffs for their 4 month old. Again, dinners were shared, sympathies extended were actions.

There is a community yard sale site here kinda like a CraigsList where my friend suggested people could post items and say they were free to families affected by the fire.

I am sure the Garrison is working hard on the needs assessments collected this week to pull resources together. I know the families will be alright and that while devastating, "things" can be replaced.

I guess I'm having a bit of survivor's guilt and feeling useless to help. How ungrateful I am to live in comfort and having been blessed as I have been. I've recently been rather silly and short fused, making mountains out of mole hills. But this is the month of Thanksgiving, immediately followed by the season of giving in commemoration of our Father's ultimate gift, our Savior. And rightly so!