Week 18: Helping Responsibly After Natural Disasters: Make Your Donations Count
Last week Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana. As I write this we are waiting to see what devastation Hurricane Irma has wrought upon Florida. Wildfires are raging across Montana, California and Washington. The strongest earthquake in 100 years has devastated parts of Mexico.
For people outside of the affected areas – watching the aftermath on the news – it’s heart-wrenching and traumatic to see fellow citizens struggling to survive. Your immediate reaction is to do something to help. There are many ways to do so but be sure you choose one that makes the most sense. The question is, what is the most responsible way to help others?
This was the question we were debating in our office. At the time, Hurricane Harvey had just hit and our specific focus was on helping the citizens of Houston. After careful consideration we decided to do two things: 1) donate to a local Houston charity focused on helping the victims of the hurricane, and 2) take up a collection of items needed by the victims. That said, we knew collecting random items like food, clothing, hygiene items, etc., and sending them into a disaster area is a bad idea unless coordinated with a local organization. Some estimates indicate 60% of unsolicited items donated by well-intentioned citizens are never used or distributed. Instead they clog up precious warehouse and tarmac space and become a nuisance for local authorities.
In light of that, we connected with a church here in New Jersey who was in direct contact with a few shelters and relief centers in Houston and was collecting specific items those local shelters/centers requested. We had a week to help collect what we could and bring it to the church to help load the truck that was leaving for Texas.
If you are feeling helpless during or after the news of a natural disaster, there are many things you can do:
- Donate money. I personally try to donate to charities and non-profits local to the affected area because I feel it has greater impact. For example, to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey I donated to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund set up by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (http://ghcf.org/hurricane-relief/). No matter which organization you choose you should ensure they are trustworthy and will use your donation properly. Check out https://charitynavigator.org to see objective ratings for charities.
- Organize a fun fundraising event where monetary donations and admission fees go towards a charity local to the affected area.
- If you want to do a drive for donated items, only do so after coordinating with local authorities or a local organization within the disaster area and get a list from them of exactly what they need. Set specific dates for collection and arrange transportation to get the items to the area in need.
- If you are passionate about being on the ground to help rebuild or clean up, only do so through an organization that will coordinate your activities and ensure you’re not a drain on resources. Never drive down on your own and just show up to help. Often there is no food, shelter, water or other services to spare for volunteers and you become a liability.
- Wait – the real struggle comes months after the natural disaster, when the television cameras have left and the disaster is fading from collective societal memory. It can take years to rebuild and fix the infrastructure and monetary and other resources often run out.
- Involve your children. Hearing about a natural disaster and seeing its impact can be stressful and upsetting to children. Help them cope and empower them to help others by having them donate their allowance or be part of a fundraiser or drive. It also sets a good example for them and teaches them how to be good citizens.
- Involve your church, work, school, or other groups in whatever you choose to do and your donation grows exponentially. It builds a collective sense of community as you gather as a group to help others.
Spending a week collecting specific items requested by local Houston services/shelters gave our employees a chance to do something in the face of the disaster. It created a sense of community and further strengthened our firm’s sense of social responsibility. The church is currently working to fill the truck by the end of this week and then will be driving it down to those specific shelters/centers as pre-arranged.
It’s not difficult to get involved and help out. Just make sure you do so responsibly so your efforts have the most impact.