The Centurion

How to Truly Help: A Quick Guide to Doing the Most Good After Disasters

Nicole "Nico" Cisneros

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The outpouring of generosity for the areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has shown the best of human nature, with thousands of Americans doing all they can to bolster relief efforts. While people’s hearts are in the right place, sometimes their actions can be a bit misguided. So how can you ensure your support is effectively aiding survivors?

●Before donating anything, double check the organization you’re looking to get involved with. Whether you’re donating cash or material goods, it’s always a smart move to check out the organization first to ensure your donations are being utilized properly. Check them out on Charity Navigator, GuideStar, CharityWatch, or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance: these sites are charity watchdogs, and they all have specific lists on the best organizations to donate to for both storms.

■Local charities for the affected areas can be found by searching for the state/island’s websites for their Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD); official state/island; governors; and the United Way for the specific city or island. Searching for local food banks, animal welfare societies, children’s homes, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and diaper banks will also generate local leads in need.

■Reputable charities either display their fiscal year (FY) reports from the previous years on their homepage or make it easy to find. If your chosen charity’s website doesn’t do either, then you definitely want to check a watchdog site before donating to them.

●The most effective donations are cash donations… Community organizations and VOADs are certainly familiar with what survivors will need, and what their respective charities will need to support them. Therefore, donating money allows these organizations to do what they do best, whether that means buying 2 tons of water bottles, fresh kennel crates for pets, or gallons of laundry detergent for clothing and bedding. So don’t believe that being a broke collegiate means your $5 contribution is just a drop in the bucket: you could be helping buy direly needed essentials.

●…However, if you would rather give material goods, make sure they’re needed. In-kind giving is particularly tricky, especially after disasters. The wrong donations hinder community’s efforts to recover by taking up volunteers’ valuable time, creating more waste, and giving false hope to survivors. Texan volunteer Angelia Griffin noted in her blog post “The Wrong Donations: Some Tough Words on Disaster Relief” that people are sending unnecessary or unusable items, such as prom dresses or used undergarments. So before you box anything, make sure it is actually helpful:
■Some have gone a step further by creating wishlists on Amazon, so you can easily purchase and send your donation directly.

●NEVER self-deploy to volunteer. Going into a disaster area post-storm is extremely dangerous: the weather may still be unpredictable, the air quality could be questionable, debris will threaten your physical safety, and food and clean water will likely be scarce. Imagine encountering any of these hazards in an area where emergency services have not been restored. Safety concerns aside, self-deploying is another way to hinder recovery efforts: the time and resources organizations use by taking care of drop-in volunteers could have been used to assist survivors instead. So check in with reputable organizations, such as SBP, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, All Hands, Islamic Relief USA, and Team Rubicon. There are also sites that generally have volunteer opportunities listed that also have relief effort opportunities now, including VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and Points of Light.

■The same sites listed for local charities also apply for volunteering. You could also look at specifics, such as Volunteer Florida or Volunteer Houston.

■Federal programs such as the FEMA Reservist Program and AmeriCorp offer small stipend to participate in their recovery effort programs.

■Remember: though volunteers for repair projects are not always immediately necessary, they will certainly be in the coming months during the recovery process. Consider planning an alternative spring break or a summer volunteer trip now so you can be ready to help communities return to normal. Some organizations good for these projects will be All Hands, Habitat for Humanity, SBP, and AmeriCorps.

●Be wary of what you see and share on social media. In the era of “fake news”, it always helps to get your facts straight. Within a few hours of storms starting, videos from previous hurricanes were being shared and falsely labeled as footage of Harvey or Irma. Similarly, links for videos or articles bashing organizations get quickly shared within the hour they’re posted. By the time these links get debunked, the damage will have already been done. You should thus research statement before posting them.

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The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College
How to Truly Help: A Quick Guide to Doing the Most Good After Disasters