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How to Help Puerto Rico Right Now

From donating supplies and money to making telephone calls, there are more ways to help than you think.
Image: Resident Mirian Medina stands on her property about two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on Oct. 5, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico.
Resident Mirian Medina stands on her property about two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on Oct. 5, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, millions of residents remain without power, food, running water or reliable means of communicating with the rest of the world. Their situation is still desperate, but there are many ways we can help.

Here's what we can do right now.

Donate Money To A Legit Charity

The first and perhaps most obvious way to help Puerto Rico — or any disaster-affected region — is by donating money. Make sure to send funds to an established charity, as scam artists are raring to take advantage of those with open hearts — and open pocketbooks.

"Always beware of fake charity websites that pop up looking to take advantage of those wanting to donate for a recent disaster," says Michael Lai, CEO of Sitejabber, a web site that helps consumers find trustworthy online businesses and avoid scams.

"Also be on the lookout for anyone soliciting money of behalf of a charity. If someone calls you to solicit donations, this is most likely a different type of charity scam looking to steal personal information. Never give out your social security number or home address or anything to these callers."

Christopher Olivola, assistant professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University recommends The Life You Can Save and GiveWell, which help "identify the charities that will make the most of each dollar donated (in terms of lives helped/saved)."

Erin Taylor, director of communications for humanitarian response at Save The Children recommends that prospective donors verify charities either through Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

Taylor adds that Save The Children is on the ground now in Puerto Rico, and plans to be "for the months ahead." The charity is asking for monetary donations and not supplies because "cash allows us to target the response as we see needs come up — then we're able to distribute goods in a way that has the greatest impact. What we wouldn't want to have happen is for there to be things donated with the best of intentions and then as the needs evolve we can't use them," says Taylor.

You may also want to consider the Red Cross, which "in coordination with government and nonprofit partners, [is] helping to distribute water, ready-to-eat meals, fresh fruit and vegetables, tarps and comfort kits," says Anthony Tornetta, spokesperson for the American Red Cross. "On Monday, Red Cross workers provided 7,000 liters of water and 25,000 ready-to-eat meals to Baja, Hatillo, Naranjito, Vega Baja and Quebrillas in Puerto Rico."

Other reputable charities include: Unicef, Foundation for Puerto Rico; The Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico; Hispanic Federation; Salvation Army; United Way; Catholic Charities and United for Puerto Rico: Together Changing Paths, a 501(c)3 organization, led by Beatriz Rosselló, the first lady of Puerto Rico.

Crowdfund With Caution

Some of us prefer to give to people whose personal stories inspire us, which is why GoFundMe is so popular. But unless you know the person asking, it's not recommended that you donate without doing your homework.

"If you decide to give to a fundraiser benefitting someone you don't know, do your research," says Lai. "Check the campaign manager’s Facebook page to ensure the story checks out or reach out to them directly for verification."

GoFundMe designed a page for Hurricane Maria-related campaigns, and GlobalGiving is raising $5 million for local relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Help These Chefs With Their Inspired Initiative

One inspired campaign with a personal bent is being carried out by World Central Kitchen (spearheaded by chef José Andrés). A spokesperson for the organization confirms that Andrés arrived in San Juan last week, and with a team of chefs and volunteers has prepared over 80,000 meals out of mobile kitchens and food trucks in San Juan, Cataño and Ponce. The organization expects to start providing 50,000 meals daily, delivering primarily to hospitals and the elderly.

The organization is counting on financial contributions to stay as high-functioning as possible. You can donate on the site and also follow Chef Andrés' journey on Instagram.

Donate Essential Supplies — But Call Ahead

While it must be stressed that money is the best thing to give right now, certain supplies are in demand. It's challenging to make shipments from the U.S mainland to Puerto Rico, but some establishments are opening the doors to material donations and offering to ship them to PR. It takes some poking around to find out which places are doing this. The best way to find out is by checking out local news and social media. Be sure and call before you do a drop-off as they can only take so much in a trip.

Depending on your state, you can drop off supplies at a designated locations. New York has a comprehensive list of donation sites here.

Councilman David G. Greenfield, who represents New York’s 44th Council District has set up a supply drive and is requesting baby food, batteries, first aid supplies and feminine hygiene products. He’s set up an Amazon wishlist, and if you order from there, the stuff will be delivered to his district office from where it will be shipped to Puerto Rico.

Donate Your Airline Miles

A lesser-known way to help is by donating your airline miles to a charity. Most major airlines have an option on their site to do this. Just Google the airline followed by “donate miles to charity.”

Volunteer Your Time

You may not be able to get to Puerto Rico to help in a hands on way, but you can still volunteer at a charity. Check with the charities listed above to learn about opportunities in your area; even answering phones can be a huge help at this time.

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