Hurricane Sandy was rough on me. Now that my power is back on and I'm getting things back to normal, what can I do to help people who are still struggling?
Dear Lucky Neighbor,
Glad to hear you made it through okay! Now that you're back on your feet, there's plenty you can do to help, especially if you're in the area. Even if you're not though, here's how you can get involved to help those in need now, or tips to take to heart for the next disaster.
We discussed how to donate money via text last week, but the need for donations hasn't slowed down just because many of us feel like life is starting to get back to normal. There are still thousands of people without power, fuel, and even food, and the need for assistance will go on for a while yet, especially as insurance companies are starting to make the rounds to decide what they will and won't pay to repair or replace. NBC News has an updated list of charities and organizations that are working directly with people in need. Consider donating now if you haven't already, or donating again if you have the cash to spare. Photo remixed from The Salvation Army and Pixel Embargo (Shutterstock).
A point worth noting: DO NOT donate goods unless you're responding to a specific call for items with those items. More often than not, checking, packaging, shipping, and distributing items randomly given by well-meaning individuals to people who need them is a logistical nightmare, so non-profits just don't do it. It's easier to open their coffers and buy what's needed instead. Donating unsolicited goods, even non-perishable foods and clothing, can take much-needed volunteers and resources away from the disaster response. Stick to cash, or check with your favorite charity to see what they're looking for.
Donating money helps a lot, but donating blood helps all the time. As blood supplies are moved across country to places where they're needed the most, that leaves blood banks and hospitals in many communities shorter on supply than they normally are anyway. The Red Cross makes it easy to make an appointment to give blood at a time that's convenient for you, so there's no need to wait for the Bloodmobile to get to your community to donate. Alternatively, reach out to the Red Cross and see if you can organize a group donation at your office, school, or community center and get others involved at the same time. Photo by Phil Gold.
If you live in an affected area and you know your neighbors are without power or internet access, consider opening up your network and your outlets to people in your community. We've already seen examples of people who have offered their dining rooms and home offices as extra space for their friends, colleagues, or neighbors to come and charge up their smartphones and laptops, get a little work done, and notify their loved ones that they're safe and sound. Many ISPs are suspending bandwidth caps in the area specifically to encourage this, although you'll still be confronted with the electric bill at the end of the month for all of the juice everyone's sucked down. Still, you'll have done something wonderful for the community directly—especially the people who live right next door to you.
Obviously, if you're in a good position and you live in or near an affected area, the best way to volunteer is to find an organization doing work in the region and volunteer. Whether you can help the Red Cross give out fresh water and serve hot meals, or you can donate specific skills (people with engineering skills are, for example, always in need to help keep communications systems working in low-or-no-power areas, and mechanics are always needed to keep old diesel generators running) to an organization that needs them, you can help. Photo by Mount Rainer National Park.
Finding out where to volunteer is a bit trickier than just donating to charity, but here are some ways to get started:
- Call your favorite charity and ask if they're looking for volunteers. If you know a charity is at work in a disaster area, call them up and ask if you can help by volunteering. Let them know where you're located, and even if you're not in a disaster-stricken region, you may be able to backfill for staff that have left your community to help elsewhere. Keep in mind that all of those National Guard troops, firefighters, and EMTs that travel from around the country to a needy community have to come from somewhere, and if that somewhere is your town, you might be able to help out in their absence, even if you can't travel.
- Take to social media and ask around on Twitter and Facebook. Social media can really shine during emergency situations, and I can't count how many people I've seen putting out the call for donations and volunteers on Twitter especially. Do a hashtag search for the disaster in question (#sandy, #hurricanesandy, etc) and see who could use an extra hand, and reach out to see how you can help.
Don't forget your local paper, or local news sites. It's easy to get caught up in national or regional coverage of a disaster, but sometimes the most accurate and up-to-date information on how you can get involved in a community is available through your local paper and blogs that cover events in your city. Those local markets are the ones most non-profit organizations approach first to get the word out, and they all have a vested interest in helping. For example, with Sandy, local organizations, newspapers and blogs have led the way in getting volunteers out to help.
- Check FEMA's response site. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) keeps a site specifically for how to donate and volunteer after emergencies. Right now that site is geared towards Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing response, but even when nothing is going on, there are resources to help get involved.
While you're helping others, don't forget to help yourself as well. You mentioned that Hurricane Sandy was rough on you—make sure you're ready for the next big storm, earthquake, flood, tornado, fire, or whatever other natural (or man-made) disaster may befall your region. Check with your local emergency management office or agency to see what types of disasters you should prepare for. Make sure you have renter's or homeowner's insurance, and that you also have flood insurance if you live in an area prone to it. Photo by KOMU News.
Finally, keep a well stocked emergency kit in your home or in your car. If you're worried about major disasters, consider a disaster survival kit with more supplies. Consider stuffing that emergency kit into a "Go Bag" so you can grab it and get out of the area if you have to evacuate, and a "Get Home Bag" you can keep at the office if the disaster takes place while you're away from home. Remember, you'll be in the best condition to help your neighbors if you're well prepared yourself.
Have a question or suggestion for Ask Lifehacker? Send it to email@example.com.
Title image by Anton Oparin (Shutterstock).