For all our disagreements as a nation, the citizens of the United States are good at one thing: Stepping up when there is a natural disaster.
Over the past week, as Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath has flooded, destroyed homes, and shut down throughout Southeast Texas, there has been an outpouring of charity from throughout the nation.
Donations have poured in. Countless people are gearing up, hoping to come volunteer. Locals have gone out on their own boats and helped pull people from neighborhoods that now resemble a bayou. Local governments are collaborating with state and federal agencies to make sure people in the area are safe. Nearby cities not hit by the hurricane are taking refugees from flooded areas while also talking to cities hit by the hurricane to provide support and services.
Today, on Labor Day (September 4, 2017), rescue efforts are still underway while recovery efforts are just beginning.
Most people are asking the question: How can I help?
I have seen a lot of well-intentioned efforts. Many people’s immediate reactions are, “I’m going to gather goods to donate,” or, “I’ll head there right now to help.” These can often be uncoordinated and lead to what is called, “A Second Disaster”, where the outpouring of charity turns from being a help to being a burden.
Goods have to be transported, sorted, stored, transported again, and distributed. People/Volunteers have to be organized, fed, and housed. Both of these are well-intentioned but can pull from resources needed to directly help those in need.
So, here’s an easy guide on how to help without getting in the way.
How To Help
Pray/Send Good Thoughts
Whatever you believe, whether it is in God or other things, a prayer and/or positive thought for those in need can do a lot of good. As we pray or meditate, we focus on these things. As we focus, we are listening for opportunities to help and are better able to act when the opportunities arrive.
Listen To Organizations On The Ground
FEMA, The Red Cross, Salvation Army, local food banks, local governments, Habitat For Humanity, Mormon Helping Hands, Catholic Charities, and other organizations are out in the thick of things providing support. They are coordinating with each other, working together to make sure all needs are met.
Before you volunteer or donate goods, check their website, find a contact, and make sure the help you are thinking of doing is what is needed.
Many organizations will have wish lists for donated goods and how to provide them. They will also have clear instructions on how to volunteer and what volunteering needs there are.
When seeking to do good, we often jump first before taking the time to check on what the real need is. Checking in with organizations already doing the work will cut down on too many people doing the same things while neglecting other needs.
Donate Dollars, Not Things
Having met many nonprofit leaders over the course of my Masters in Public Administration program, I am a firm believer in donating dollars and not things.
There are a few nonprofits who abuse the dollars they receive. The majority, however, are excellent stewards of donated funds. Nonprofit professionals work hard to ensure every dollar is utilized well and are constantly finding ways to stretch each dollar a bit further.
Here are a few reasons I suggest donating dollars instead of things:
- A nonprofit can buy goods in bulk and buy goods as needed, cutting down on storage needs. This allows the $1 donated to provide more than the $1 you paid for your donated item.
Nonprofits need money for staff, equipment, for running logistics and moving things to the places where they will do the most good.
Nonprofit staff are experts and professionals. We need them to spend their entire day organizing things and making sure the good we want to have happen is accomplished. Nonprofit professionals also need to eat, pay rent, and provide for their children. Your dollar helps them have the peace of mind they need to work nonstop to complete herculean tasks which volunteers do not have the capacity to do.
- Nonprofits can transform your dollar into the items needed. Your dollar can magically become a water filter, construction supplies, clean-up equipment, clothing, toothpaste, feminine supplies, diapers. Donations of items are still good, but there is often a huge pile of one item (like toothbrushes) but a lack of other supplies (like clean underwear).
Money is easier to transport than physical items. Goods like a can of soup, a hygiene kit, or school supplies, require storage, sorting, and transportation. Each of these steps adds additional costs before it is delivered to the person who needs it.
Here are a few lists of places you can donate to*:
If you have any additional lists or additional organizations, please comment and I will add them.
*Please do your homework before donating to an organization and make sure you are on the correct website. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scam donation sites out there. I like lists like these because they make it clear these are legitimate organizations.
Plan Before You Volunteer
As mentioned before, the organizations on the ground know what is needed. Before you rush out to the scene of the disaster, coordinate with the organizations already there. The worst you can do as a volunteer is get in the way.
Watch for opportunities to go with organized groups who have a plan. Contact organizations and find out what they need. Wait till a few weeks from now, when the initial spike of volunteers slows down and nonprofits are having a hard time getting enough people.
If you are looking for a straightforward opportunity, my religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a program called Mormon Helping Hands. You’ll see them in bright yellow shirts or safety vests. Everyone is welcome. Where I live in San Antonio, the local congregations are working with regional leadership to coordinate work crews to go out this weekend. These efforts are being coordinated with Catholic Charities and other charity organizations.
If you are in the area impacted by the hurricane, or know someone who needs help cleaning up their home, here is are hotline numbers to ask for help:
If you know of any other organizations seeking volunteers, please say so in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.
There are many organizations, from national ones like United Way and The Red Cross to local food banks who need help. If you are seeking to volunteer, I am sure you can find a spot where you are needed.
Thank you for being a kind, charitable person. The above is meant to inform and help you find the way to do the most good.
A very long story short, I’ve been out of town this entire week (partially due to a work conference and partially due to having my flight canceled due to the hurricane and using that as an opportunity to visit family in California). I have been keeping up with news back in San Antonio via Facebook and email. The City of San Antonio has had employees participate in drives for the local food bank, which is providing food for hurricane refugees sheltered in the area.
Once I am back in San Antonio tonight/tomorrow, I will see if there are further opportunities to serve. As I mentioned, if you know of opportunities, please mention them in the comments below and I’ll try to add a list.
To finish, I believe in doing what as I suggest others do. So, I’m announcing…
The Uplifting Authors Challenge
Over the month of September, I am donating 50% royalties from book sales to various charities supporting hurricane victims and recovery efforts.
Depending on sales, this might not be much, but it can be one more drop in the multi-billion dollar bucket of the funds needed to help Southeast Texas recover.
I am challenging other authors of uplifting books to do the same. You can choose how much of your royalty to donate and what charities. The main point is for each one of us to do as much good as we can.
If you are an author willing to accept this challenge, please do the following:
- Write a post (via your blog, Twitter, or Facebook) stating:
- How much of your royalties you are donating (whatever you can afford)
- Why you are joining the challenge (for me, I live in San Antonio and Houston is pretty close to home)
- What charities you are donating to (I’m donating to San Antonio Food Bank and texasdiaperbank.networkforgood.com)
- Include #UpliftingAuthors
- Challenge authors you know who believe in doing good to join the challenge
- Please let me know if you are participating. I would like to do a blog post later this week with a list of authors so we can help each other do good.
Again, thank you to everyone seeking to good. And, for those of you outside the United States, we appreciate your thoughts, prayers, donations, and efforts to help.