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Many people want to offer help in a natural disaster, whether by donating money, transporting supplies, giving blood, or volunteering to go into affected areas and offer physical assistance. Unfortunately, there are times when well-meaning people get in the way more than they help. In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Guard, and some charitable organizations have trained workers that go into disaster areas to perform search and rescue as well as to aid survivors. An untrained individual may end up becoming another person in need of rescue.
If you decide to volunteer during a natural disaster, be sure to coordinate with trained responders so that your assistance can be effectively utilized. You may be able to offer transportation to survivors who are not seriously injured or help bring in necessities, but you should never take it upon yourself to decide what needs to be done.
Giving donations is often the best way to help. Relief efforts cost massive amounts of money in order for relief teams to do their jobs and provide necessities to victims. Just make sure that your donation goes to a reputable organization, one that spends the largest percentage of its donations on direct assistance to victims of the disaster instead of using the money for other programs and expenditures. As a rule, avoid charities that will not disclose the breakdown of how each dollar is spent and those that spend more than 20% of monies received on "administrative" or other expenses.
If you would like to check out different charitable organizations, a good place to start is the Better Business Bureau (BBB). In conjunction with the BBB, there are also websites that offer reviews of various charities, along with their records and spending habits. After a natural disaster, fraudulent "charities" often show up trying to collect money. Look for a well-recognized, well-respected name, or do some research before giving.
When you decide on a charity, also inquire whether or not the organization has a specific fund set aside for the particular relief effort you want your donation applied to. Many charities simply add donations to their general fund or to other projects if you do not indicate specifically where you would like the money to go. If you are donating to help the victims of a specific event, make sure that's where your money is going.
If you would rather donate food, clothing, or other supplies, make sure such items are sent to the proper location. Staging areas, the places you see on TV, often lack the time, space, or personnel to handle these types of donations. They are busy trying to rescue people that have been trapped or harmed. Make sure the items are sent to appropriate locations where they can be effectively sorted and distributed to those in need.
Many schools, churches and community centers conduct food and clothing drives during a natural disaster, and these drives are best suited to handle such donations. It is also a good idea to learn which items are the most needed before donating. Just know that any effort you make to help, no matter how large or how small, will be appreciated.