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Help Survivors responsibly

When natural or human-caused disasters strike, people look for ways to help survivors.

As we struggle to find ways to help our fellow human beings in places that are often far from our homes, we must weigh our options, and our feelings, carefully. before heading to a disaster area, consider the complexities of the situation. To make the most of your efforts and assist impacted communities best, consider these tips for donating and volunteering responsibly:

Donate to the Virginia Disaster Relief Fund

This program provides a way for individuals or groups to make monetary donations to help those affected by disasters in Virginia.

Tip 01

Cash is the fastest way to assist disaster survivors.

Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources. Many charities specialize in providing relief in disaster areas, yet they face significant financial barriers to getting their staff, equipment, and supplies into impacted areas.

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Your donation helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help survivors recover. Organizations typically prefer cash donations because they allow organizations to:

  • Purchase food, water, medicine, and equipment from secure and familiar supply chains
  • Buy materials locally – which can help rebuild the local economy
  • Conserve resources – money is always necessary and cheap to send, but the cost to ship material supplies can be expensive.
  • Remember, material supplies such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable food require helping agencies to redirect volunteer labor away from providing direct one-on-one assistance to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
Tip 02

Do not self deploy.

Seeing images of disaster may compel you to head to the impacted area. Don't underestimate the complexity of working in a disaster area. Until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support, volunteers should not enter.

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  • Be sure to affiliate with existing voluntary organization before coming to the disaster area, and that organization has been asked to respond.
  • Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites and opportunities have been identified.
  • Once assigned a position, make sure you have been given an assignment and are wearing proper safety gear for the task.

Be patient. Recovery lasts a lot longer than the media attention. There will be volunteer needs for many months, often years, after the disaster – especially when the community enters the long-term recovery period.

Tip 03

Donate through a trusted organization.

At the national level, many voluntary, faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors.

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If you’d like to donate to assist those affected by disaster, these organizations are the best place to start.

National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)

VA Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster

Virginia Disaster Relief Fund

Tip 04

Affiliate with existing non-profit organizations before coming to the disaster area.

Immediately following a disaster, a community can become easily overwhelmed by the amount of generous people who want to help. Contacting and affiliating with an established organization will help to ensure that you are appropriately trained and supported to respond in the most effective way.

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The impulse to help when others who are suffering is commendable. However, volunteering inside a disaster area can be dangerous, stressful work in extreme environments.

If you’d like to volunteer to assist those affected by disaster, these organizations have specific disaster roles and are the best place to start.

National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)

VA Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster

I want to help by:

Help disaster victims: Donate Money

When the public supports voluntary organizations with financial contributions, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the people in need after a disaster.

Watch this short video to learn more: A financial contribution to a recognized disaster relief organization is the most effective donation to make because:

  • It is the most needed and the most efficient way of helping those impacted by disaster.
  • It allows voluntary organizations to fund response and recovery efforts, obtain goods and services locally, and provide direct financial assistance to disaster survivors to meet their own needs.
  • Make a financial contribution to the voluntary organization of your choice.

Help disaster victims: Donate Goods

Confirm what is needed BEFORE taking action! The most effective way you can assist is to support experienced disaster relief organizations with either financial contributions or in-kind goods and services.

Used clothing is rarely a useful item to collect for disaster relief. Used closing miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable food requires helping agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing direct assistance to disaster survivors to cleaning, sorting, packing, transporting, storing and distributing. Mounds of clothing often take up valuable warehouse space and are frequently discarded or donated to other nonprofits.

If you have a quantity of a given item or class of item to donate, and you need help in determining which organizations to give to, contact the Voluntary and Individual Assistance Branch Chief at volunteers@vdem.virginia.gov for guidance.

Help disaster victims: Volunteer

Volunteer with a recognized organization involved in disaster response and recovery prior to the next disaster event. These organizations have the infrastructure necessary to support their relief efforts in impacted communities.

How to successfully volunteer for disaster response and recovery work:

  • Get training before the next disaster
  • Connect and affiliate with a voluntary organization
  • Consider volunteering for the long-term community recovery
  • Plan to be self-sufficient

Seeing images of disaster may compel you to head to the impacted area. Don’t underestimate the complexity of working in a disaster area. Until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support, volunteers should not enter.

  • Be sure to affiliate with existing voluntary organization before coming to the disaster area, and that organization has been asked to respond.
  • Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites and opportunities have been identified.
  • Once assigned a position, make sure you have been given an assignment and are wearing proper safety gear for the task.

If you’d like to volunteer to assist those affected by disaster, these organizations have specific disaster roles and are the best place to start.

National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)

VA Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster

Virgina Volunteer Resources

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For more information on successfully managing volunteers, and securing donations to best impact communities affected by disaster, download the resources below.