Natural disasters, while terrible for those affected, often put on display the best in humanity. Strangers help each other regardless of race, class, or belief. Neighbors start talking to each other. People give generously of time and resources. New priorities are established. Heroes arise from the shadows. These responses give hope that order will be soon restored and what was lost will be recovered.
Americans across the country are rising up to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. You are likely one of them, and you may be asking “how is the best way for me to help (to make a difference)?”
Great question! I put together 3 quick tips drawn from my experience responding to a variety of disasters over the past 15 years to help answer that question.
TIP #1: Let this mantra guide all your decisions when choosing how to get involved: “Volunteering/Giving is not about YOU! Be smart, be humble, and remember it is about those you are trying to help.” I will spare you the countless stories of terrible volunteers that do more harm than good. If you cannot commit to this motto, then JUST SEND MONEY and stay out of the way!
TIP #2: Give what is needed…when it is needed! I remember seeing trucks full of used clothing rolling in after Hurricane Katrina. The immediate need was food, water, and basic medical supplies for those in shelters around Baton Rouge. Volunteers wasted precious hours sorting clothes that were not needed. It was sad!
If you are collecting and sending supplies, then check “urgent needs lists” on websites like FEMA, Red Cross, and other first responder websites. And remember, the cost of shipping your supplies may be higher than the value of the supplies. In the end, money may still be the best donation.
TIP #3: Plan your response! If it is a “real” disaster, then it will be a disaster for a long time. If you want to actually volunteer on location, then find an organization that is accepting volunteers. If you can’t lead with a skill such as medical, construction, technology, or something related then it may be best to wait 3-4 weeks before arriving. Let the first responders do their work, and then come in to add value. All quality volunteer organizations will do their best to match your skills to a place of need, but remember the mantra above. (You can find the volunteer application for the @RedCross HERE and @MercyChefs HERE.)
The desire to be help is human. Applying these 3 tips will help your efforts go much farther in making a real impact.
Need a more extensive read on this? Check out @FEMA volunteering guidelines here: READ ME.