When Disaster Strikes, What and How Can I Give?

July 28, 2022
By Jim Morse
Much of the following information is quoted or adapted from a joint document of FEMA and National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster titled “When Disaster Strikes…How to Donate or Volunteer Successfully,” pamphlet L217. 
Following a disaster, I am always asked the question: What can I donate and how?  This article is to help answer these questions and provide guidance for future disasters.

FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS ARE OFTEN THE BEST KIND OF DONATION TO MAKE.

Providing a financial contribution to a voluntary organization involved in disaster activities is often the most sensible and the most efficient way of helping the people in need. There are many voluntary organizations with considerable experience in disaster relief in areas such as needs assessment, cleanup, mass feeding, mass sheltering, first aid, crisis counseling, pastoral care, childcare, pet care, home repair, family casework, meeting “unmet needs” and many other areas. 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.
Within the Conference, contributions can always be made to:
 Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
           attn.: Treasurer
           7400 Floydsburg Road
           Crestwood KY 40014

           On the memo line please put: KY Disaster Response #200902. }


USED 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 for those affected. Used clothing and other small items can also be donated locally to help community-based organizations helping others in need.
The Methodist Mountain Mission is always able to use good used clothing and other household goods, and arrangements can be made to donate through your local church.
 

CONFIRM WHAT IS NEEDED BEFORE TAKING ACTION!

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. As information becomes known on what is needed, the Conference will share that information through its website and email. Often, when large-scale disasters occur, the state’s Office of Emergency Management, working closely with the voluntary organizations, will establish a toll-free donations hotline for the public to call to learn what donated goods and services may be needed. 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. Get precise information before collecting any donated goods.

DONATE THROUGH A REGISTERED ORGANIZATION.

It is important to avoid collecting goods for disaster relief without a firm plan in place that confirms the goods are needed, who will receive them, and how they will be transported and distributed. During a disaster, experienced disaster relief organizations base their activities on overall situation assessments and detailed needs assessments. Coordination with the relief group and communities impacted by the disaster is essential to ensure the right goods are collected, the right amount is collected, and that logistics issues such as transportation, warehousing, and distribution are fully discussed. Donors will find that it is often most practical to focus on one or two items that an organization needs rather than collect a variety of items.

TRANSPORTATION MUST BE PLANNED IN ADVANCE.

Transportation is frequently a major problem for donors and relief operations. It must be organized in advance; otherwise, a donor can easily be stuck with large amounts of donated goods and no means of transporting it to the recipient organization. Do not assume unsolicited relief supplies will be transported free (i.e., fuel is not free) or at government expense. The donor has the primary responsibility to find transportation for the goods being donated. Local trucking firms may be willing to help in times of disaster if funds are available to cover part of the expense. Donors often raise money to help pay transportation costs.
In addition to organizing the transportation, the donor should be very sure of the destination. Do not assume that one will readily find the best location by just taking the donation to the disaster zone. 

DONATED GOODS MUST BE WELL PACKED AND LABELED.

After confirming that the goods are needed and that there is a plan to receive, store and distribute them, the receiving organization will give you instructions about how the goods should be sorted, packaged, and labeled. If unsure of this process, discuss these steps with an experienced disaster relief organization. Specific content lists should be taped to the side of each box. This allows the receiving officials to determine the contents of the box without opening it, thereby allowing for a timelier distribution. 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.

IN SUMMARY: TO SUCCESSFULLY DONATE TO DISASTER RELIEF

  1. Provide a financial contribution to a voluntary organization involved in disaster activities.
  2. Find out what services state government is providing via website or state donations hotline.
  3. Wait to begin collecting, packing, and shipping until you have a known recipient to accept it.