When Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines last week, it left thousands dead and 660,000 people displaced. Volunteers from across the globe are rushing to the devastated area to muck out homes, hang drywall, clean, deliver food, and offer financial assistance. The storm’s impact is all the more troubling considering the fact that many of those affected by the typhoon were already left homeless by an earthquake in mid-October.
Charitable organizations around the nation are assembling in and around the city of Tacloban to help residents in much the same way they did to help hard-hit New Jersey recover from Superstorm Sandy. But the volunteer pool is relatively thin because even as we approach the one-year anniversary of Sandy, many of the volunteers and sponsoring organizations who lent a hand in the critical first days after the disaster remain in New Jersey, still helping.
In fact, according to CNN, as of the end of September 2013:
- 173,544 volunteers had invested more than 1 million volunteer hours in the Sandy recovery effort.
- The value of their contributions now totals more than $30 million.
“In (times of) disaster, the efforts of volunteers are critical to the recovery,” said Gracia Szczech, federal coordinating officer for FEMA in New Jersey. “Volunteers have made a substantial contribution to helping (victims) respond and recover from the challenges they faced after Hurricane Sandy.”
Volunteerism plays a crucial role in disasters of all kinds. Due to the sheer breadth and depth of associated devastation, paid workers can’t possibly meet all of the needs. American Red Cross volunteers constitute about 94 percent of the American Red Cross workforce. Volunteers make it possible to respond to nearly 70,000 disasters every year—most of which were home and apartment fires.
Immediately following Hurricane Sandy, volunteers from more than 500 organizations showed up. These included internationally recognized agencies like the American Red Cross, to smaller groups which routinely travel whenever and wherever major disasters strike. Among these groups are the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Habitat for Humanity, Feed the Children, Lutheran Disaster Response, United Jewish Communities, Catholic Charities, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Medical Teams International…to name a few.
Local churches, charities and nonprofits also work around the clock to provide the help their neighbors needed to survive, recover and rebuild. There are lots of opportunities for volunteers. If you would like to be part of a team to help with the recent disaster in the Philippines, or continuing relief efforts in New Jersey, flood relief efforts in Colorado, or whenever and wherever the next natural disaster strikes, follow these 10 suggestions to maximize your efforts:
- Instead of traveling to the disaster site, consider donating funds to a well-established charity, as financial contributions are often requested in lieu of items such as food and clothing—which may be difficult to transport and distribute. Donate $10 now by texting redcross to 90999.
- You could sponsor a fundraiser to multiply your efforts. Use your enthusiasm for disaster assistance to encourage others to donate.
- If you’d like to work on scene, align yourself with a reputable organization. Consider groups such as the American Red Cross (800) HELP-NOW, Save the Children (800) 728-3843 and UNICEF (800) 4UNICEF.
- Show up to all applicable training sessions and read organization materials so you are well prepared for what awaits you.
- Give blood. The American Red Cross makes it easy to be a blood donor. Contact them to find out where to give.
- Show up. If you say you will be there, follow through.
- Be flexible. Humanitarian aid isn’t easily categorized. You might not know what you’ll be doing until you show up on scene.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you eat and get enough rest so you will be a valuable member of a relief team.
- Donate Goods. Confirm what is needed before you start gathering items.
- Be safe. Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites. Once you’ve been assigned a position, make sure you wearing proper safety gear for the task.
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