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Hurricane Florence: How to help the victims of the storm

Donating money, food or your time is the most effective way to help. Here's how to do it — and how to avoid online scams.
Image: Hurricane Florence
Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help people to higher ground after rescuing them from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence Sept. 14, 2018 in James City, North Carolina.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

It will be a treacherously long weekend for the Carolinas, as Hurricane Florence, which made landfall on the North Carolina coast on Friday morning, lashes heavy rain and winds of 90 mph.

In the words of Chris Wamsley of the National Weather Service at a Friday morning press conference: “This is only the beginning. Florence is a very slow mover, [and] will continue to trek along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline for the next 24 to 36 hours,” he said.

The storm has already resulted in flooding, mass power outages, emergency rescues and the death of at least five people, including an infant.

We’ve yet to know what the weekend and the aftermath of the storm will bear, but we shouldn’t wait to help. Now is the time.

“If we can get ahead of it, it won’t be as bad in the long run,” Greg Forrester president and CEO, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) tells NBC News BETTER.

Here’s what you can do:

Donate Money

“The first thing you can do and the easiest way to help us help the communities [affected] is to make a donation,” Anthony Tornetta, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross told NBC News BETTER. “After a big disaster, the Red Cross spends an average of 91 cents of each dollar to help people in need. This includes shelter, food, relief items, health and emotional support, and financial assistance, as well as logistics and support. The rest of the dollar — about nine cents — helps keep the entire Red Cross running by covering things like HR, finance systems and fundraising.”

After a big disaster, the Red Cross spends an average of 91 cents of each dollar to help people in need.

You can donate through the Red Cross’ website, over the phone by calling 1-800-Red-Cross and by texting 9099 to give $10.

“You can also send a check to your local Red Cross and write [in the memo line on the check] that you want the money used for Hurricane Florence,” says Torenetta.

Donate blood

Tornetta notes that previously scheduled blood drives in the affected areas have been cancelled due to the storm, but blood donations are needed year-round.

“The unfortunate reality is that hospital patients will need surgeries and treatments to survive,” says Tornetta. “Blood can last up to 56 days and we can ship it around the country to where it is needed.”

Hold off on clothing donations — they can be a hassle

Donating clothing, shoes and other items to people is a charitable action, but one that can actually be a hassle for workers who have to thoroughly clean the items and assess the sizing, Tornetta says.

“If you’re adamant about donating clothing, I would check with community partners to see where donation spots are,” Tornetta adds. “If you show up at a Red Cross building with bag of clothes we certainly won't turn you away, it’s just much easier to take cash and turn into resources. It's a faster turnaround.”

VOAD directly asks people to not give clothing.

Donating to the local Salvation Army and Goodwill [is best] as they will make vouchers available to survivors to pick up clean and properly-sized clothing.

“It ends up being a second disaster because it’s just problematic. We just don’t have room for storage, and we have such a mishmash of things that can’t be utilized,” says Forrester. “These volunteers can be assisting survivors instead of sifting through clothes. It draws away from the primary. Donating to the local Salvation Army and Goodwill [is best] as they will make vouchers available to survivors to pick up clean and properly-sized clothing, including in areas that have been evacuated so that volunteers do not have to process the clothing.”

The NBA steps it up, calls attention to food donations

Michael Jordan, the Charlotte Hornets and the NBA have teamed up to help raise money for a number of local organizations providing relief efforts including the American Red Cross, Direct Relief, Foundation for the Carolinas, Second Harvest Food Bank and the United Way of Central Carolinas.”

You can give directly online to each of these organizations and learn about volunteer opportunities. Second Harvest Food Bank also accepts food donations.

If you are donating food to an organization, always check what they need and will take.

“Shelters typically don’t take freshly made goods because of the risk of contamination and allergies,” says Forrester.

If you live far from the affected area, you’re still helping by donating canned food and bottled water to your local food bank, as you’re replenishing local sources so that “more can be dropped into North and South Carolina,” adds Forrester.

Volunteer for the long haul

Get out there and make a difference in what’s arguably the most personally fulfilling way.

“Become a Red Cross volunteer,” Tornetta urges. “We'll get you in a vest and get you out helping people. [As of Thursday] we had more than 1500 people in Virginia and the Carolinas and not all of them are from there. The Red Cross assures that travel for volunteers to and from the disaster area is provided for.”

Online Donation Safety Tips

Sadly, scammers are quick to prey on the financially charitable in the wake of great disasters.

Forrester notes that all national organizations on VOAD’s website have been vetted for authenticity.

If donating to a GoFundMe or other crowdfunding campaign, consider this checklist provided to NBC News BETTER by Michael Lai, consumer protection expert, CEO and co-founder of Sitejabber, an online review platform.

Search for crowdfunding platforms that have experience with disaster relief

  • Check online reviews to see platforms on which donors have been happy making charitable donations
  • Check how successful previous disaster relief campaigns were on the platform (e.g. how much money raised? how many donors?)

Research the quality of the platform's customer support

  • Read reviews of donors' experiences interacting with customer support. This can be done on Sitejabber
  • Check to see if their support team is easy to get in touch with (email, chat)
  • What guarantees does the platform offer to help fight fraud? GoFundMe offers up to $1K refunds to donors of misused campaigns

Check the fees and fine print

  • The top complaint on Sitejabber is that many people are surprised by how much the platform takes vs. donating directly to charity
  • Most platforms take 8-10 percent of total
  • Read the terms and conditions (some campaigns are taken down unexpectedly)

Check refund policies of platform

  • Most platforms will refund money if campaign is closed or doesn’t reach goals

Research the cause and actual person raising the funds

  • Only fully trust campaigns set up for or by people you know
  • Check online profiles of campaign manager (FB, LinkedIn. Check histories)
  • Reach out to campaign manager directly

Pay with credit card so you can request a chargeback if necessary

  • Never pay via wire transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram)
  • Paypal offers a certain degree of fraud protection
  • Credit cards will often allow disputes and charge-backs from issuing bank

Don’t be shy about a donation that feels paltry. Torentta stresses that “even just a little bit goes to help people’s needs and aid in recovery.”

We’re already looking at 5 to 10 years of recovery

And if you can’t donate or volunteer now, do it later. This recovery process will be a long haul.

“We’re looking at anywhere between a five and 10 year recovery process,” says Forrester. “We’re just getting into rebuilding from last year’s storms.”


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