It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Here’s what to expect, and what you can do, to help recover after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, from someone who spent nine months in gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
it will get much, much worse. It will take WEEKS to establish all the needed supply lines and distribution depots. The federal government is not built to deliver the scope of aid that will be needed. Private aid is CRITICAL.
this is going to be a long effort, which will first be about immediate relief (food, water, shelter) but then transition to the longer recovery efforts. Volunteers will be vital to help those communities recover, through the hard work of clearing out debris and damage from homes, as well as taking care of the needs of the community ( like child care and places for education and entertainment ) through the long months ahead.
distinguish your help between relief and recovery. Relief is a blanket and hot coffee, it’s handing out food and diapers and tarps. Recovery is gutting homes to the studs and rebuilding them. Both are important. Completely different scale and timeline.
if you are sending relief supplies in a truck, think about how much work will be needed to sort it. Making individual kits of supplies may seem like it makes sense, but full boxes of like items are far easier to sort and manage on the other end. The things you send will likely end up in ad hoc, improvisational relief centers, so the less effort required to get it from your truck to someone’s hands, the better.
Clothing donations will feel good but overwhelm volunteers. If you are going to send them, make sure they are CLEAN and locationaly appropriate- no down coats for Florida, etc. After a few weeks post Katrina we were literally bulldozing unneeded donations. Sort them by size.
The exception to this is diapers. They are in short supply, expensive, and if you have had kids you know you can’t go a single day without. We couldn’t ever keep them in stock.
Recovery will take a *long* time, and there won’t be anywhere near enough volunteers. The highest impact aid will be that which enables volunteers to stay in the field. The most fungible tool is cash. It doesn’t have to be massive -organizing dinner parties and raising ~$100 dollars has really impact and value. People on the ground can decided best what is most valuable. Generators and modular structures ( carports) also hugely helpful.
small direct action groups with a proven track record of success and very clear accountability for donations that you can feel good supporting:
1- Team Rubicon. “Disasters are our business. Veterans are our passion.” Unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. Think big men ( and women) with chainsaws. https://teamrubiconusa.org/donate/
2- Can-Do.org CAN-DO (Compassion into Action Network — Direct Outcome Organization) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that donors can count on to get the job done. From natural disasters to humanitarian crises, we provide critical aid to communities who need it most in a timely and transparent manner. We are not tied down by politics or bureaucracy, and do not delay delivery of lifesaving resources by getting caught up in the red tape. We are dedicated to providing lasting, self-sustainable solutions for people facing some of the world’s most critical problems. We go anywhere in the world and do whatever it takes to get the job done.https://can-do.org/donate/
3- Burners Without Borders. Diverse, local chapter based group, comprised largely of volunteers that attend the annual Burning Man event, which requires surviving in a harsh environment. They are especially good with heavy machinery and recovery work.
if you are helping clear out the wreckage of someone’s home, remember you’re elbow deep in the most private space/things in their lives. be respectful, and recover any mementos you safely can ( photos, china, etc ) with humility. and understand if they’re not able to express gratitude-this isn’t about you.