As people watch images of the West fertilizer plant explosion, many not in the affected area wondered what they could do to help. They may have started putting together clothing or canned goods to send to the survivors, or planned on taking a trip to volunteer.
The problem is, sometimes well-intentioned donors do more harm than good. Cast-off clothes and mounds of unusable food pile up, forcing relief workers to spend valuable time sorting through donations and trying to find ways to get the items to the affected areas. Spontaneous volunteers – those who haven’t been specifically called to an area to assist – can also create issues. For example, a disaster area will have damaged infrastructure and limited housing leading to logistical issues.
If donated goods and time are not the answer, is there anything you can do to help disaster victims? There are ways to make sure that your help does the most good for the most people. The following tips will ensure that when disaster strikes, you will be part of the solution rather than inadvertently compounding the problem.
- Cash is the most efficient method of donating – Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources and pumps money into the local economy to help businesses recover. Remember, unsolicited donated goods such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable foodstuffs require helping agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
- Donate through a trusted organization – At the state level, many voluntary-, faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. www.texasvoad.com If you’d like to donate or volunteer to assist during times of disaster, these organizations are the best place to start.
- Affiliate with existing non-profit organizations before coming to the disaster area. Immediately following a disaster, a community can become easily overwhelmed by the amount of generous people who want to help. Contacting and affiliating with an established organization will help to ensure that you are appropriately trained to respond in the most effective way.
- Be safe. Do not self deploy until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support. Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites and opportunities have been identified. Once assigned a position, make sure you have been given an assignment and are wearing proper safety gear for the task.
- Be patient. Recovery lasts a lot longer than the media attention. There will be volunteer needs for many months, often years, after the disaster - especially when the community enters the long-term recovery period.
Volunteers are critical components of disaster response and recovery. In the midst of devastating wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes or other unfortunate disasters, government and nonprofit organizations will deploy resources and utilize volunteers to help support our neighbors as they recover and rebuild.
- Volunteer with a non-profit organization and be trained before the next event to find meaningful volunteer opportunities following a disaster.
- There are many organizations and faith-based groups in your community that have active disaster programs and need volunteers
- These groups offer a wide range of services following a disaster:
A financial contribution to a recognized disaster relief organization is the most effective donation to make. When the public supports these voluntary organizations with financial contributions, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the people in need after a disaster.
- Most needed and the most efficient way of helping those impacted by disaster.
- Allow voluntary organizations to fund response and recovery efforts, obtain goods and services locally, and provide direct financial assistance to disaster survivors to meet their own needs.
- Make a financial contribution to the voluntary organization of your choice.
- If you need help in determining who to give to, Texas Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster website has a list of major Non-profits that are active in disaster work or you can make your offer through TexasVOAD.
Confirm what is needed BEFORE taking action!
- Donate in-kind goods that are specifically requested or needed by recognized organizations.
- Unsolicited donated goods such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable foodstuffs require helping agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
- Confirm the needs by contacting the voluntary organization of your choice before starting to collect.
- If you have a quantity of a given item or class of item to donate, and you need help in determining which organizations to give to, you can make your offer through the State Donations Management Network.
For More Information
When disaster strikes… How to donate or volunteer successfully! (PDF 258KB, TXT 10KB).
Managing Spontaneous Volunteers in Times of Disaster: The Synergy of Structure and Good Intentions (PDF 433KB, TXT 27KB)