Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Can I Help?

It is natural to see images of Hurricane Sandy and wonder how you can help.

As we sit here on the West Coast, it reminds us of the same helpless feelings that we experienced during Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist events of 9/11/2001. In the aftermath of a disaster or crisis, many people feel the urge to donate and/or get to the site of the devastation so that they can lend a helping hand.

Today, we want to chat about how to donate most effectively post-disaster.

The first rule of thumb is to "Donate Cash" instead of stuff.

"But I have lots of food, blankets and other items of necessity?"  Here is the problem...

As soon as a "stuff" need is rumored or advertised through the media or in social media, people are often overly generous and give much more than is needed.  Often, the "need" is a rumor or someone's best estimate of what is needed who is observing the situation and is not directly tied to the emergency response. 

While well intentioned, these donations can become messy quickly.

Relief Organizations, like the American Red Cross, have bulk order deals in place which means they can stretch your dollar more easily in disaster relief areas.

We have heard story after story of pallets of bacon, used clothing, and truckloads of watermelon that have ended up creating more of a problem at emergency sites for responders and rarely ever get used. 

In one such legendary story, a semi-truck once offloaded a trailer in front of a fire station, preventing the first responders from being able to get their fire truck out of its station. 

"I just want to go and help out. They could surely use extra hands, right?" Another problem...

During emergency situations, first responders and emergency services personnel will aim to use affiliated volunteers first. 

Why is this?  Because affiliated volunteers have often been background checked and are known to the group in which they are serving. 

So what happens when unaffiliated people show up?
  • They are often turned away from the scene because the responders don't know if you are really intending to help or might be a part of the many scammer organizations that crop up post disaster, seeking to profit off the emergency itself.  Unfortunately, vulture businesses are far too common post-disaster.   
  • Unaffiliated volunteers may also be directed to organizations like the Red Cross in order to get affiliated.  The resulting problem, however, is that the relief organization is busy focusing on the disaster and doesn't have as much time as they would like to process the new volunteer's application.  This can result in frustration for both the volunteer and the aid agency.
So, key lessons?

Donate cash instead of goods. 
You can help the Red Cross today by texting REDCROSS to 90999 and make a $10 donation to their current relief efforts or you can visit their website to donate other amounts as well. 

Make sure that you are pre-affiliated with an aid organization before disaster strikes if you think you may want to visit disaster-areas and provide assistance.  Here in Clark County, the website for our local Red Cross Chapter is http://www.swwredcross.org/.

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