Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Totally Ready Binder: Tips & Tricks for Now & When Disaster Strikes.

With two huge disasters in just one month, it is a good time to address how to help.

First, don’t rush in. As of this writing, homes lost in the Colorado fires are buried under inches of snow. Survivors cannot begin to sort and clean up until that snow melts and they take pictures and had insurance and FEMA inspections. Check with local agencies before going to a disaster site.

Second, do not send items, clothing, furniture, household items etc. Even food can come too soon when it cannot be used because survivors have not found places to live on a more permanent basis.

Third, if you really want to help now send cash or deliver gift cards to local agencies helping survivors. Check with first responders or city offices to confirm agencies are legitimate. If donating cash, I suggest donating thru the church as 100% of all donations go to survivors, none is used as salaries or to oversee operations. Two other great organizations are the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities which take very little to support overhead.

Fourth: If you want to help long after others have forgotten make ornaments! We are five days into 2022 and already we have over 2,000 families who have lost homes. Most will not be back into a home for months and most will not be into a permanent home for at least a year, usually more. Visit Operation Christmas Ornament on Facebook to get involved. We continue to hear stories and receive messages of thanks from those gifted ornaments in 2021.

Finally: You can help survivors you know by collecting the items needed for a binder with important information and documents (see Create a Binder below). As an example, collect “Photos from home inventory or any photos from friends and family showing items you owned both inside and outside your home”. Collect photos from family, friends and church family who may have taken pictures at the home which is lost during a party or other visit to the home. It is not important who is in the photo. These can be used to help homeowners remember the items to list on an insurance claims form even their clothing. Check your children’s phones as they may have photos they took in a bedroom or outdoors. Yes, photos outside are important as they capture images of outdoor furniture, games, firepits, etc.

If you know a survivor of a recent disaster, please pass along the following information.

There are so many scams after a disaster. It is disgusting but it happens every time.

FEMA and other agencies will NEVER:

  • Ask for money.
  • Ask for credit card information.
  • Will never determine your eligibility.
  • Take the place of an insurance inspector. Never begin clean-up without written permission from an insurance inspector.
  • Never charge. FEMA inspections are free. Never pay an inspector.

Ask Questions:

  • Ask for official identification from insurance officials.
  • Ask for official identification from FEMA officials.
  • Ask for official identification from all agencies and first responders approaching you.
  • Always record the names of officials you speak with and the time and date of the interaction.

Be Aware:

Your application may be denied if they cannot read your writing. Always print neatly when filling out forms.

After a Disaster: Insurance Claims

In California: California requires an acknowledgment of all claims within 15 days. State insurance companies are required to accept or deny a claim within 40 days after receiving proof of the claim. If the claim is accepted, payment must be made within 30 days from the date settlement was reached. Be sure to check the law in your state now to know what to expect and to know your rights.

Be Aware

  • Do not sign anything for the first few weeks.
  • Read through your policy and understand your rights and limitations. Ask for explanations.
  • Get answers to all questions in writing.
  • When turning in documents or receipts get a receipt.
  • You should receive a check for annual living expenses. This will be for an amount over what you were spending before the disaster. Be sure to include, rent, storage fees, food, medications, clothing, laundry, and other expenses when submitting a claim for living expenses.
  • If staying with family or friends, they are entitled to the added expenses for housing you.
  • Keep a log of every phone call and the name of the person you spoke with.
  • Create a list of items lost in the disaster. Walk thru department stores to remind you of what you had buried in the closets and cupboards.
  • Get everyone involved in the inventory registry. This would be a good assignment for children. Ask them to make a list of everything they can remember in your home by room. Transfer all lists to a master list, another great task for an older child.
  • Ask friends and family about gifts they have given you and ask for photos taken in your home even if they are 20 years old.
  • DO NOT discontinue insurance policy. You are insured for liability and people may get hurt, including you, while cleaning up or rebuilding. Amend your policy but do not cancel.
  • Do not clean up until after an insurance company and FEMA inspection if you are applying for help from FEMA.
  • Be sure your insurance agent has all your contact information including your new, temporary address.
  • Do not close your claim too soon. Once a claim is closed it’s closed. Be absolutely sure you have included everything you owned and been compensated for everything you are entitled to.
  • If you receive a check marked with something like “payment in full” or payment closes claim do not cash it unless you certain you are ready to close your claim.
  • It’s ok to be the squeaky wheel but be kind. You catch more flies with honey.
  • Remember you will only receive depreciation value on items so think of every safety pin and doorknob, everything!

Create a binder and include the following:

  • Print all emails both those you send and those you receive and file them.
  • All the lists of items you and the children have made of items lost in the disaster. Walk thru department stores to remind you of what you had buried in the closets and cupboards. List of items in the yard. This list will need to include a brief description, original cost and year purchased.
  • A list of purchases you make to replace items lost and the receipts.
  • A list of the cost of all items needing to be replaced.
  • To prove replacement costs, go to a few stores and create a registry as you would for a wedding. Print the registry and include in your binder.
  • All receipts for housing and living expenses while evacuated and rebuilding.
  • All permits and receipts.
  • Photos from home inventory or any photos from friends and family showing items you owned both inside and outside your home.
  • Pictures before cleaning up.
  • Photos during every phase of building.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering in Kentucky and Colorado. We will not forget their challenges have just begun. Your love and support will mean more than any physical items survivors may receive. Remember, Alma 37:6, “I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”

Carolyn’s ebook Totally Ready Binder – Tips & Tricks for Now & When Disaster Strikes other ebooks and self-reliance help can be found at Her new weekly challenges begin today at and Totally Ready on Facebook.