I have found myself off balance these last few weeks with all the news reporting on natural disasters it seems it is hard to watch; let alone to know what to do to help. I was praying, which I seem to do a lot more of that for these disasters than normal, about how do I help. It seemed letting others know of how they might help was the first step for me. At my time as Director of our local The Salvation Army Service Center, I learned a lot about disasters and how they affect others. Let’s talk about this for a moment.

When a disaster comes, large or small, it stops normal life patterns for whoever is involved and others around them. With the ones of the last few weeks, many are affected from families, businesses, first responders, to government agencies and non profit agencies. Some larger disasters cause unreal damages, as these last have, where the needs will be beyond any one agency being able to make a dent in the situations. Many will ask you to send money, online or to their local agency where you live. (This can be very important, often their branch’s of operation in the area are also damaged, so, the larger agencies will send groups of volunteers from other cities to help.)

Most people want to send something, but, I recommend to wait, just a little while, to see what they are requesting as their most needed items; then send those things. Shelters are setup in areas where homes are unsafe or destroyed, so, if thousands of people send clothes, it is a situation of clothing or beds, later clothes will be greatly appreciated (make sure clean, no tears or to worn out). Food, in sealed packages, especially finger-food items that are great for children, elderly, and easy to open. Water in gallon jugs will sometimes be better than in bottles. If possible ask someone before you collect and send. Money will always be needed, but, you want to make sure it will get to the actual people who are in need. I recommend you go on line and see who the normal non-profit agencies are in the area; check how long they have been working in the area; and how they give out assistance. For example, low income families only qualify… well, in a disaster even middle income families can be in emergency need, especially, if they can not work due to businesses destroyed or auto damages. If you are giving to the larger agencies, see what they provide and how long they will be in the area; also, check to see how much of the funds go to actual services. I can only speak for The Salvation Army. On a disaster, unless rules have changed, on a donation for a certain disaster, 100 percent of the donation will go there. This, as in other larger agencies, does cover volunteers expenses for travel, lodging, and minimum cost foods. The Salvation Army will normally work with any need they can, with few limits. Their best known service is the feeding canteens. They will help feed thousands of meals and stay as long as needed. Normally, you may see an American Red Cross shelter with The Salvation Army serving meals.

My last thought on these disasters are the local agencies. When you make a donation to say, The Salvation Army, what you write on the check or select online, it goes there. People seem to want to give to the disaster and will stop sending their regular donations to the local agencies that are still serving where you live. Please be aware of their needs also. If their funds drop, especially with feeding programs, it can be harmful to the many people who depend on them for a daily meal, or for help with another need. You can make a difference to those in need often by giving through volunteering, items they need, and donations of funds. Unless rules have changed, for normal local donations, The Salvation Army uses 12 percent of every dollar for purposes like disasters. The 88 percent left of every dollar will benefit those in your community! Also remember, prayer is the best way of helping! God bless you all!

Donna Harris