How can I contact families I see in the news?
March 13, 2018 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Lately when I see sad news stories, I feel a desire to reach out and send flowers, or words of support - that kind of thing. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels this way and wants to do something kind. I'm Canadian, so this is typically on the CBC. Is there a way to get contact information for individuals or families featured in these types of stories?
posted by kitcat to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
It's very kind of you to want to do this.

I would contact the CBC and ask them how to help. They probably won't give you the family's address outright like that - consider, the family may want some kind of privacy protected. But the CBC may be able to pass a thing along, or know what other entity might be a similar "middleman" kind of person.

I've definitely seen in the past instances where there's a news piece about someone who's had some kind of misfortune, and the newspaper or station or news outlet in question gets a ton of calls from people asking how they can help, and the news outlet ends up starting the fund or collecting the donations themselves and facilitating the handoff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

Yes, it's called Google. In my experience you can find phone numbers and addresses, and often email, for most people unless they are intentionally drawing the curtain on themselves. (Discovered by helping my high school class of 50 years ago track down missing classmates.) There are also paid services that will provide additional detail, they usually pop up in results when you google a person's name and location. Also look them up on GoFundMe and such, since there may be fundraisers for people in particular circumstances.
posted by beagle at 9:07 AM on March 13

It's often pretty easy to find people on Facebook, so there's that. Or GoFundMes, as mentioned above. Sometimes I'll send a sympathy card directly to the office/school/church.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:18 AM on March 13

Please please double think this instinct. I was one of those families on the news (despite our desire not to be) and the strangers reaching out was extremely upsetting and made a bad thing worse. I'm sure other people feel the other way and would enjoy it, but the fact that people had gone out of their way to find out where I live and felt like they were entitled to my space was really intrusive and upsetting, and now 15 years later still something I think of negatively.

If the family has set something up (like a GoFundMe) then obviously that's different, or if you can use something like the news station as a middle man it might be better.
posted by brainmouse at 9:54 AM on March 13 [51 favorites]

brainmouse, is there a way people could have gone about it better, or do you really wish that no one had ever contacted you at all?
posted by kitcat at 10:18 AM on March 13

Even though you can probably find their address online, it feels quite invasive to do so. I think it's good manners to feign ignorance of their location and send letters to them in care of the CBC or other station. This is what people did in the pre-internet days.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:23 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]

I really wish no strangers had contacted me. The phone calls were by far the worst, but absolutely none of it was appreciated or positive or helpful.

Again, I'm sure other people would find similar things comforting and nice, but you just don't know what these people are thinking.
posted by brainmouse at 10:26 AM on March 13 [14 favorites]

I'm with brainmouse on this.

There are people that are living and in bad straits that can benefit from some support - you might consider reaching out to people in hospices or prisoners that could benefit from some supporting words or small acts of kindness rather than grieving families.
posted by Candleman at 10:50 AM on March 13 [12 favorites]

I have done this once by tweeting at the author of a news story. The author connected me with a pastor who was working with the two families discussed in the story. The pastor screened my interest (I had gone through a similar tragedy that is relatively unique and wanted to offer them some comfort that you can survive it). One family member declined to speak with me. The other family member said he would be open to a phone call. The phone call was brief and sadly I am very uncertain I offered any comfort. (Maybe I did? I don’t know.) I came to the conclusion that in the end, this impulse was probably more about something happening in me, than simply helping them. I needed to funnel my sympathies through to people seeking help, not offer help where I wasn’t sure it was needed.
posted by samthemander at 10:55 AM on March 13 [23 favorites]

I think this impulse to offer help and comfort is wonderful, but I'd also urge you to redirect it elsewhere. In some cases it might be a welcome gesture, but 1. you can't know when it will be and when it won't and 2. at best, the comfort you can offer to strangers you saw on the news will be minimal.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:14 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

Making a donation to a reputable local nonprofit is always a great alternative.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:16 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

> I think this impulse to offer help and comfort is wonderful, but I'd also urge you to redirect it elsewhere.

Yes, this. If you see a news story about a family that lost their house in a fire, or has a kid sick with a terminal disease, or etc., then turn your urge to help THAT family to an organization that serves families like them - donate money, materials, or time as appropriate. Even as a well-meaning person who genuinely wants to help, it's going to be nearly impossible for your actions, as a stranger, to not come off as more about what you need (e.g. to offer comfort) than what a particular family needs (e.g. probably not comfort from a stranger, of whom you will not be the only one).
posted by rtha at 11:18 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]

Sometimes news stories include specific ways to help - "a fund has been established at X bank" or a GoFundMe or whatever. If something is mentioned in the story, it's fine to do that. If not, that absence is an indicator to leave them alone and not go digging for contact information.

I see calls for people to send mail to specific folks in the hospital (who want/enjoy it) pretty often on Facebook, maybe that would be something to check out? I see them as reshares from acquaintances, but I bet there are groups for this.
posted by momus_window at 3:42 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

How about just donating to charities that care for families in similar situations? What you are describing could be seen as invasive. Remember the families you reach out to would not know that you are a safe and mentally stable person.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 5:16 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

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