Send money, not items.
That’s the message disaster-relief experts stress as Florida braces for Hurricane Irma. Relief efforts are already beginning in the Caribbean.
While people mean well when they send items such as clothes, water and teddy bears, those aren't needed immediately after a disaster, said Bob Ottenhoff, CEO and president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
Most disaster relief organizations will have enough food and water to distribute after the storm, he said. And when supplies are sent, there often isn't enough staff to sort them out, leaving items unused or damaged. Experienced organizations can determine how much and what is needed and where.
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Ottenhoff also said people shouldn't travel to areas affected by Hurricane Irma unless they’re part of a coordinated effort with an relief organization. Roads will likely be damaged or destroyed, making it hard to get to the disaster area, often leaving the would-be Samaritans needing aid themselves.
"It's well-intentioned, but it basically just sort of adds to the confusion rather than helping," he said.
The best way people can help is to donate, he said. Most donations come immediately following events, but it can take years for an area to recover. He said it may be three to five years until the Houston area recovers from Hurricane Harvey.
After Hurricane Irma, those who want to donate to organizations should reach out to learn what they need, said Jennifer Touchet, the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s senior director of family philanthropy. After Hurricane Harvey, the foundation used a hotline and email to answers questions. So far, they’ve raised more than $40 million.
She said those who want to help should donate to both small and large organizations.
"Long term, you want to make sure that whole ecosystem of the nonprofit community is able to keep on its feet," she said.
United Way of Broward County is already asking for donations in anticipation of damages from Irma, CEO Kathleen Cannon said. Though they’ll take items in the weeks ahead, depending on the damage, they might need thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars.
"Right now we don't know exactly what the need is," Cannon said.
Though Ottenhoff thinks people will continue to give, he said he worries about disaster fatigue.
"It's exhausting to be watching these stories day after day," he said. "There's a certain amount of trauma that comes with watching all this disaster news."
Here are some other organizations raising funds for those affected by Irma:
- United Way of Miami-Dade is soliciting donations on behalf of the United Way organizations in all hurricane-affected areas. You can choose to have your relief funds go to Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey.
- United Way of Broward County has partnered with the Jewish Federation of Broward County and the Community Foundation of Broward to raise money and find volunteers for response after Hurricane Irma.
- UNICEF is raising money to distribute emergency supplies to affected areas. After the storm, UNICEF will focus on getting children back to school. Charity Watch gave UNICEF an A.
- Crowdfunding website Global Giving is raising $2 million to first “help any first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter.” Following the storm, the fund will “support longer-term recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations responding to this disaster.” The fund has been vetted, accoridng to the website.
- The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is raising money to fill gaps where public resources are unavailable or scarce and fund medium- and long-term care.
- Save the Children emergency teams are responding in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the U.S. to address specific needs of young children. The organization is known for for setting up child-friendly spaces in shelters after emergencies to allow kids to play and read in a safe environment while parents coordinate recovery efforts. Charity Watch gave Save the Children an A.
Charity efforts for victims specifically outside mainland U.S. include:
- ConPRmetidos is trying to raise $150,000 for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
- The Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross is providing support to victims on those islands.
- Convoy of Hope’s disaster team has a million meals staged in Haiti and more en route.
- Oxfam has teams stationed throughout the Caribbean supporting local partners to provide safe water and sanitation.
- Food For The Poor is rushing aid vulnerable areas in northern Haiti. Aid was trucked from the charity’s Port-au-Prince, Haiti, warehouse starting on Thursday, and more containers will be shipped from its Florida headquarters next week.