The first appeal I heard was on Friday night, after Hurricane Harvey hit South Texas. It was from a volunteer at a makeshift evacuee shelter.

"We need cots, blankets, food, water, diapers, sanitary products, pet food, kitty litter and…." His list went on and on. "We need everything," he summarized.

So much need, and so many ways to help.


Do you know best way to truly help others after a disaster?

(Keep in mind, the U.S. isn't alone in this. In South Asia, more than 1,000 people are dead - and 41 million people are recovering and rebuilding - after this summer's monsoons, flooding and landslides across Bangladesh, India and Nepal.)

When you want to help with the relief efforts - any disaster - consider these options. Some might surprise you.

First, remember that cash is always king. US AID cites three simple reasons why:

1. Professional relief organizations can use the money to purchase exactly and specifically what the disaster victims need, when they need it.

2. Money is easy to convey. (The cost of shipping items, like bottled water or canned goods, can literally outweigh the value of the items. And, with today's online giving options, you don't even need a postage stamp.)

3. When money is used to purchase items locally, it helps stimulate the local economies, provides employment to residents and helps establish a sense of normalcy.

IF YOU WANT TO GIVE MONEY AFTER A DISASTER

You can give to a national organization, like the American Red Cross or ASPCA.

Now, this may seem counterintuitive, but it's an important consideration when making a donation to a national or international organization. Instead of designating your donation to the specific disaster area, consider allowing the nonprofit to use the funds "wherever the need is the greatest." That's because groups like the American Red Cross are always raising funds for the next need.

You can also give to statewide or regional organizations, groups that help a broad cross-section of people meet a variety of needs. Find a food bank, the United Way or community foundation that support the affected area(s).

If you prefer giving to smaller nonprofits over larger ones, there are plenty of good community-based organizations who will put your money to work. These on-the-ground groups will be there to help the locals now and in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Whoever you choose to support, always make sure you're donating to a reputable organization. Sadly, there are many scammers and unsavory organizations that will take advantage of your kindness and generosity, especially after a disaster.

OTHER WAYS TO GIVE, BEFORE AND AFTER A DISASTER

Donate blood at your local American Red Cross. Like food and water, blood is essential. And your donation could, literally, save a life.

Donate to your local food bank, but avoid the instinct to collect and ship food and water directly to the disaster site. You might be surprised, but it's actually one of the worst things you can do.

Organize a drive and donate to your state's diaper bank. Did you know about diaper banks before Harvey? There's a special need right now, since diapers aren't provided by disaster relief organizations. And the need is real and on-going, across the U.S. You can learn about your state's program at the National Diaper Bank Network.

Volunteer. Texans are encouraged to contact NVOAD, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, to learn how to get involved with Harvey relief. Louisiana's governor has encouraged people to register with Volunteer Louisiana.

Regardless if where you live, if you're interested in free disaster training, contact your local Red Cross. You can learn how to deliver response services during the next major disaster, here or abroad.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Americans have an amazing, generous spirit.

And it's times like this when we see ordinary people do extraordinary things. Over the past two weeks, we've watched neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. Heroes, every one.

We've seen dramatic rooftop rescues of families and pets. First responders rescuing senior citizens from flooded facilities and pulling drivers from nearly submerged cars. Everyday people providing food, shelter and comfort for those who have none.

Selflessness, kindness and generosity abound.

Whether it's driven by empathy, compassion or something else altogether, Americans will not fail when it comes to helping others who are affected by disaster.

At the same time, it's a myth that "Everything helps" and that you should send anything and everything after a disaster.

(Just think of the time and energy that it takes to sort, organize, catalogue, distribute and sometimes store donations like used clothes and teddy bears. By some estimates, up to 60% of unsolicited donations go unused. Sixty percent!)

However, it is true that no cash donation is too small. When combined with others, small gifts add up to make a big difference.

You can make a difference. And if you're a donor (or a nonprofit staff person, a board member or a volunteer), you already are.


Image credit thanks to Edwin JuralMin and Pixabay