5 Ways to Help Communities Affected by Hurricanes (and Other Natural Disasters)

Updated Sept. 03, 2019 for relevancy.

These past years’ hurricane seasons have been extraordinarily active and destructive across parts of the U.S. If you’ve followed coverage of Hurricane Florence and of Hurricane Michael, you’re well aware of the dangers they’ve brought, including life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic flooding and historic rainfall. We are now following coverage of Hurricane Dorian, which has reportedly caused devastating damage in the Bahamas, Florida and the Carolinas’ coasts.

As the effects of these storms become clear, you may feel compelled to help. Yet because of the sensitive nature of disaster relief work, it’s important to preemptively take stock of your options and figure out the most impactful ways to lend a hand. To assist you with this journey, we’re sharing five effective ways to support communities in the wake of a natural disaster. We’ve done our work so we can provide you with a list of reputable causes that are committed to providing disaster relief.

1. Send Funds

Oftentimes, the most effective way to help victims and survivors following a natural disaster is with a financial gift to disaster relief organizations that have strong presence in affected communities. These organizations have likely already produced response plans for emergency situations such as these. And they depend on our donations to provide immediate relief.

More so than donated goods, financial donations can be given quickly, are versatile, and remain helpful beyond the initial response by aiding in long-term recovery work. No matter how much you can give, every dollar goes a long way.

In fact, many nonprofits set up special disaster relief funds in response to events such as Hurricane Dorian, so you can ensure that your designated gift is supporting the most urgent disaster. Some organizations, such as the Salvation Army, even waive their usual administrative fees when a major disaster takes place, meaning 100% of the money you give goes to those who need it.

2. Give Blood

If you’re eligible, giving blood is an especially meaningful way to help out in the wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters. In extreme weather conditions, road travel is often hazardous, preventing regular donors from giving and canceling scheduled blood drives. At the same time, however, there’s often increased demand for blood from hospitals.

Unlike other medical supplies, blood and platelets can’t be stockpiled in advance due to having a short shelf life. If you can donate, you can help ensure that there continues to be a sufficient blood supply for those in need. Contact the American Red Cross or local organizations like The Blood Connection (the Carolinas) and SunCoast Blood Bank (Florida) to set up an appointment.

3. Donate Goods

While donating items is very generous, do NOT send unsolicited donations to organizations helping with hurricane relief. Sorting through, cleaning and distributing goods can be costly and divert time and resources from more urgent needs.

If there’s an organization you’d like to support, check to see if they’re currently accepting donations of goods before organizing, collecting or sending anything. You can give these organizations a call or visit their website to learn more. Organizations can provide you with a list of items needed, so you can make sure you’re only sending critical and useful supplies.

At the time of the original publication, we noted requests for goods coming from organizations like Catholic Charities Raleigh and Urban Ministry Center. Examples of items that organizations need include flashlights, batteries, nonperishable food, diapers and gift cards. For help in the Bahamas, please see a list of goods needed here: https://www.bahamas.com/hurricane-relief.

Again, if you have any doubts, please consider donating cash instead.

4. Volunteer Time

While watching disasters like Hurricane Dorian unfold, many of us may feel the need to travel to affected areas and volunteer. Although the impulse is commendable, you may end up going more harm than good. In fact, we highly recommend that you do not self-deploy to disaster-stricken areas.

Before deciding where and how to volunteer your time, it’s important to assess the situation and your skillset. For example, if you aren’t currently trained or certified in disaster relief, your time may be better spent helping with long-term recovery efforts rather than the initial response.

For those who live in affected communities, you may be able to find volunteer opportunities at your local American Red Cross chapter, where you can help serve meals, register clients and more. Or, you may consider reaching out to local nonprofits such as Central Florida Continuum of Care in Orlando, Fla., the Charleston Animal Society in Charleston, S.C. or Volunteer Florida in Tallahassee, Fla. to see what volunteer needs they have at the moment.

You can also search for opportunities on VolunteerMatch.org to volunteer locally or virtually.

To get started, filter search results by location, cause area (we recommend “Disaster Relief”), and keyword (e.g., “Hurricane”). Please be patient with your search. It will take time to assess the damage and havoc wreaked by Hurricane Dorian, determine unmet needs, and figure out how volunteers like you can support hurricane response and recovery efforts. Organizations may not have had the chance to post volunteer opportunities just yet, and you might not hear back from them immediately after expressing interest.

Finally, if you are passionate about disaster relief, consider completing your disaster response training now. The reality is, Hurricane Dorian will not be the last of its kind. Completing a training course now means you’ll be ready to mobilize during the next disaster and in any local emergencies.

5. Keep It Up

Immediate response to Hurricane Dorian is only one phase of the emergency management cycle. Relief and recovery efforts will last long after the storm passes and media coverage ends. In fact, it often takes many months, if not years, and millions of dollars for affected areas to recover fully from damages sustained by a natural disaster.

Consider donating time or money to long-term recovery needs, especially since this phase of disaster response tends to be the most underfunded and under-resourced. You can have a huge impact by contributing to organizations like Habitat for Humanity — an organization committed to helping lower-income populations return to normalcy following the initial relief response.

Organizations Mobilizing Around Hurricane Dorian

Once you’ve determined the most effective way(s) for you to give back, you’ll want to find an organization committed to helping communities affected by Hurricane Dorian. For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of some of the organizations actively responding to the needs of those impacted by the storm (this is by no means is comprehensive).

For the latest updates on Hurricane Dorian, please visit CNN’s live coverage here

Have an organization or suggestions to add? Share it with our readers in the comments section below.

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