DISASTER STRIKES, DONATED GOODS AND VOLUNTEERS MAY BE NEEDED
HOW YOU CAN HELP
information is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and
the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). For more
information about FEMA please see www.fema.gov
and for NVOAD see www.nvoad.org.
Both organizations believe it is very important for people to get involved
and help their fellow citizens in time of disaster. The generosity and
kindness of people around the country does a lot to help communities heal
from the tragic consequences of disasters. However, it is very important
to coordinate the help first with experienced disaster relief organizations
and/or the State and local emergency management offices so that the people
in need of help receive it in the most timely and effective manner.
is moved when they hear the news that disaster has struck a community.
Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and other types of
disasters can suddenly change the lifestyle of a family, community and
The National Donations Steering Committee, composed of voluntary organizations
active in disasters, federal, state and local government emergency management
personnel has developed the following information for people interested
in supporting disaster relief efforts.
CONTRIBUTIONS ARE OFTEN THE BEST KIND OF DONATION TO MAKE.
a financial contribution to a voluntary agency involved in disaster relief
is often the most sensible and the most efficient way of helping the people
in need after a disaster. There are several voluntary agencies with considerable
disaster relief experience. These organizations have disaster skills in
many areas such as disaster needs assessment, disaster clean-up, mass
feeding, mass shelter, first aid, crisis counseling, pastoral care, child-care,
home repair, family casework, meeting "unmet needs" and many
other areas. When the public supports these organizations with financial
contributions it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the
people in need after a disaster.
Please see www.nvoad.org to see a list
of the major disaster relief organizations involved in disaster preparedness,
disaster prevention, disaster response and disaster recovery in the United
States. To learn more about disaster relief organizations involved in
foreign disasters please see www.interaction.org.
Try to find out as much as you can about the work of the voluntary agency
by asking questions of them and learning of their track record in disaster
Cash contributions to voluntary agencies also make sense for other reasons.
The voluntary agency will often spend the money in the local disaster
area thus helping the local economy get back on its feet. Cash donations
rather than unsolicited donated goods avoid the complicated, costly and
time-consuming process of collecting, sorting, packing, transporting,
unloading, resorting, storing, repackaging, and distributing the goods.
Cash donations to voluntary agencies help meet peoples' needs more precisely
as the voluntary agency is in a better position to purchase what the people
need or can provide vouchers for people to purchase what they need. Cash
donations to recognized relief organizations are also tax deductible.
CLOTHING IS RARELY A USEFUL ITEM TO COLLECT FOR DISASTER RELIEF.
Used clothing is rarely a useful item to collect and send into the disaster
area because it is hard to clean, sort, pack, transport, store, and distribute.
Mounds of clothing take up valuable warehouse space and frequently end
up being discarded. Constructive things to do with used clothing are to
have a yard-sale to raise money for the disaster relief organizations
that provide goods and services that the disaster survivors really need.
Used clothing and other small items can also be donated locally to help
community-based organizations in the local area
THE NEED BEFORE BEGINNING A COLLECTION OF DONATED GOODS.
The most effective way the public can assist is to support the experienced
disaster relief organizations with either financial contributions or in-kind
goods and services that the organizations report are needed. Many of the
experienced voluntary agencies involved in disaster relief have toll-free
numbers for the public to call in order to learn what kind of donated
goods might be needed in the disaster area. Often, when large-scale disasters
occur in a State, that State's Office of Emergency Management, working
closely with the voluntary agencies, will establish a toll-free Donations
Coordination Hotline for the public to call in order to find out what
donated goods and services are needed, if any.
It is often a mistake to assume what is needed in a disaster. Over the
years, there has been considerable waste of countless tons of clothing
because it was collected and sent with no prior coordination. Donors should
be wary of anyone who claims that "everything is needed" in
a disaster. Try to get more precise information before collecting any
THROUGH AN ORGANIZATION.
It is never a good idea to collect goods for disaster relief without a
firm plan in place that confirms the goods are needed and that addresses
who will receive the goods, how they will be transported and how the goods
will be distributed. Experienced disaster relief organizations base their
disaster relief activities on overall disaster situation assessments and
detailed needs assessments. Many relief groups, if interested in the donated
goods, have some infrastructure in place to store and distribute the goods.
Coordination with the relief group is essential so that the right goods
are collected, the right amount is collected, and that the logistics issues
of transportation, warehouse and staging area coordination, and distribution
are fully discussed. Donors will find that it is often most practical
to focus on one or two items that an organization says is needed rather
than collect a variety of items and have boxes filled with mixed goods.
MUST BE PLANNED IN ADVANCE.
Transportation is frequently a major challenge for donors. It must be
planned for in advance otherwise a donor can easily be stuck with large
amounts of donated goods and no means to bring it to the recipient agency
in the disaster area.
Do not assume unsolicited relief supplies will be transported at no charge
or at government expense. The donor has the primary responsibility to
find transportation for the donated goods. Local trucking firms may be
willing to help in times of disaster, if funds are available to cover
part of the expense. Often times donors raise money themselves to put
towards the transportation of the donated supplies.
GOODS MUST BE WELL PACKED AND LABELED.
After confirming that the goods are needed and there is a plan to receive,
store, and distribute them be sure that the goods are properly sorted,
packaged and labeled. If unsure, discuss these steps with an experienced
disaster relief organization. Specific content lists should be taped to
the side of each box sent. This allows the receiving officials to determine
what is in the box without opening it, and gets it to the proper distribution
location in a timely manner. Put yourself in the shoes of the person on
the receiving end of the shipment and think about making the unloading,
unpacking, warehousing, and distribution as simple as possible.
ARE ENCOURAGED TO AFFILIATE WITH A VOLUNTARY AGENCY INVOLVED IN DISASTER
RESPONSE AND RECOVERY.
Before the next disaster strikes, get some disaster training. You will
be in a better position to find meaningful volunteer work at the time
of a disaster. Volunteering through an organization also provides a better
chance of insurance and liability protection. There are many tasks to
do after a disaster - cleaning up and rebuilding are two of the biggest.
Both voluntary agencies and the local government may be aware of opportunities
for volunteer labor in the long and difficult recovery phase. Watch the
local media carefully to see what volunteer coordination efforts are being
organized. Often the Volunteer Center in the area is an excellent source
of information about volunteer opportunities after a disaster.
In the immediate disaster response period there are often many people
wanting to volunteer at the same time. Remember to be patient. It may
not be perfectly clear until a few days after the incident how a volunteer
can get involved. There are often greater needs for volunteer help when
the community enters the long-term recovery period. Also, note that volunteers
should plan to be as self-sufficient as they can be so that they are of
little, if any, burden on the disaster-affected community.The following
disaster relief organizations belong to the National Voluntary Organizations
Active in Disaster (NVOAD).
American Radio Relay League, Inc.
The American Red Cross
AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team)
Catholic Charities USA
Christian Disaster Response
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
Church of the Brethren
Church World Service
The Episcopal Church
Friends Disaster Service
International Relief Friendship Foundation
Lutheran Disaster Response
Mennonite Disaster Service
National Emergency Response Team
National Organization for Victim Assistance
Nazarene Disaster Response
Northwest Medical Teams, International
The Phoenix Society
The Points of Light Foundation
Presbyterian Church (USA)
REACT International, Inc.
The Salvation Army
Second Harvest National Food Bank Network
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Southern Baptist Convention
UJA Federation of North America
United Methodist Committee on Relief
United States Service Command
Volunteers of America