Submitted by Bob Warfield, Lakewood.
Two months have passed since a brushfire in Woodbrook neighborhood swept into the Bobs and Jamestown Homeowners Cooperative on 146th Avenue, SW, in City of Lakewood. Winds were stiff and conditions dry. The alarm came in to Tillicum’s Engine 23 Station at 2:09 PM. In ten minutes, West Pierce Fire and Rescue’s first units were over the I-5 canyon, east on 146th Avenue, arriving at a scene frenzied desperation.
Into a chaos of widening wild and burning rage these “first responders” swiftly began setting up containment. Hoses stiffened under pressure with quenching water aimed across a breadth of advancing flames. Their call for additional support brought prompt response from a growing fleet of fire and medical units, nearing thirty by days end. Before the last ember was out, over sixty West Pierce personnel had joined the fight under command direction through a blinding gale of toxic smoke to check and overcome the fire. From first response to final assessment and ready recovery took seven hours and twenty minutes.
Some days are more difficult than others, some tragic. As darkness eased calm over a scene of charred wreckage and ponding water the scale of destruction bore increased weight. Two adult residents lay dead in one of the nine trailer homes destroyed. A half dozen more were badly damaged. Five vehicles were burned beyond scrap value. Net on-site asset loss among the Bobs & Jamestown homeowners was well over $100,000. One strains imagination thinking it could have been worse. Of course, it could have been. And it needn’t have happened at all. But that’s another story.
That brings us to the story of help and recovery for twenty-three surviving children and adult residents left displaced by the fire and resulting personal loss. In gathering dusk, immediate outreach blossomed like a night-blooming flower among neighbors, friends and family with welcoming assistance. Food, shelter, a place to spend the night or a week unfurled as though scripted from a symphony of village generosity.
News of the fire sparked a seemingly spontaneous drumroll of “GoFundMe” announcements, each one selectively pitched to help a displaced resident in need; one person specifically named. Adding to this welter of outreach, a remote non-profit corporate office, with founding financial interest in organizing the homeowners cooperative where the fire occurred, stepped up the game, broadcasting its “GoFundMe” appeal with an on-line flyer to help everyone injured as a group. All of these of course were soliciting aid electronically through a credit card transaction.
Meanwhile, a separate appeal was summarily announced directing cash assistance to the locally prominent non-profit “Caring for Kids.” Avoiding further confusion, to its credit, “Caring” assumed the burden. So, checks began going there, separate and out of synch with the “GoFundMe” sites, all but one now uniquely established for a single named person. As of this writing, “Caring” has fulfilled its draft obligation, acknowledged donors and forwarded funds received for local benefit through a non-profit organizational chain based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Donor intentions were thus fully honored, an accounting task that proved more difficult and time-consuming than first imagined.
If you sense there is a problem here, perhaps you can see where I’m going with this story. Trouble is, while I haven’t a happy ending or certain answer, I think we all need one. What I can do, and will attempt, is to state the problem, offer related fact and theory, and hope that we, that is community, can figure out a better way to respond.
THE PROBLEM is that multiple and varied appeals for financial help inherently scatter response resulting in disproportionate (possibly unfair) assistance relative to need.
THE FACT is we all want to help, and a private contribution, whether by check or by Visa through “GoFundMe,” is or should be expedient. But in observing outcome one month post fire, among twenty-three persons displaced by the one described, specific “GoFundMe” results were reporting $2,010, $375, $6,535, $255, and one that was over half-way to an $18,000 goal. That leaves an unknown sum, certainly helpful and possibly significant, from sponsored appeals by and for the homeowners’ cooperative, and those checks sent to “Caring for Kids.” But these varied response amounts for four sponsored persons; … Wait! Four? Yes. Two for the same person, … make the case.
THE THEORY (A. Globally & observed) hangs upon observation that human response is generally predictable, mostly rational and often charitable. And as to the latter, it is both simple and complex. The simple aspect is that in a given place, culture, circumstance of compelling (sudden, upsetting, grievous) loss by other humans deemed worthy and proximate by kinship or association, we, as other amiable people do, will act to help, proportionate to urgency, scale or impact of event, means and opportunity. The complex part is all of the time, distance, abstractions and approximations that culture, proximity, commitment and convenience impose.
THE THEORY (B. Locally & applied) “GoFundMe” is great. Need shown; help given. But, big But. In the case described, could it not be managed in a manner that would better ensure, in fact achieve, a desirable collective response tailored to balanced individual need and hopefully assured recovery? Responding to urgency of compelling interest or need, most people will act upon the first credible response opportunity and are unlikely to change course or amend their decision once made. Further, given the characteristics or nature of a defined event, one that is subject to elicit response, and given a “radius” of informed appeal (times the possible factor(s) of promotional outreach) a roughly predictable total response may be reasonably calculated. And, when “exhausted,” the aggregate response will be measurable. In other words, over time and observation of hundreds of similar “GoFundMe” appeals, there will emerge a reasonably predictable profile of beneficial response.
Looking EQUITY in the eye? Well, there it is – a solution to this distribution problem appears to be one of practical “equity.” If that is not best in your view, what is? Individual circumstance respecting need and means is likely as unique as a loss experienced or appeal made. But most apparent is the absence of some collective intelligence able to fairly affect considered distribution. Filling that absence in urban American society is normally a matter for public agency.
My argument is that by now “GoFundMe” along with other social media of comparable organizational purpose, could/should be able to link and contextualize appeals to incentivize both sponsors and contributors responding to a known incident toward realization of that “equity” we all would ultimately recognize as doing the most good for the greatest number; striving for the best net effect.
One solution, pending something better from “gofundme.com” et al, and assuming a location’s social complexity exceeds the centering habits of rural village tradition, would be for the jurisdiction of common habitual deference (the place where it happened, in our case City of Lakewood), to assume the initiative to promptly find (cite, identify) or otherwise provide and announce appropriate representation on behalf of those affected to better consolidate and direct provisional help to those in need – encouraging an effort to do the best that can be done for everyone concerned.
It’s not hard. We simply need one recognized organization prepared to lead or stand by; then a name, objective and goal when a fund is called for. Agency could be the city. It could be a bank, a church, a community center – point being, when the music stops EVERYONE deserves a chair; best achieved if we all salute a single flag.