When Disaster Strikes

Seven Things You Can Do to Make a Difference

feeding program after typhoon

Hawaii knows the devastation wrought by disasters. That’s why people step up and lend a hand.

Victor Leonardi, the Salvation Army’s Divisional Director of Emergency Services and Safety, offers these ideas on the best ways to lend a hand and support disaster relief—in the moments after the strike and in the long months that follow.

  1. Cash is King. When we hit the ground after a disaster, having the ability to apply funds to what survivors most need makes all the difference. Whether it’s rebuilding houses, establishing shelter, replacing appliances, or simply giving comfort, having funds on hand means we can do our work immediately. Plus, by spending those funds in the impacted region—buying from local vendors, stores, and food purveyors—that money is immediately reinvested in the community.

  2. Volunteer! During the Puna lava disaster, we had 42 teams per week on the ground. By quickly identifying your skill-set—administrative, organizational, kitchen staff, carpentry, etc—you can be put to work right away. Signing up in advance is also helpful, especially if you have specific skills—carpentry, counseling, pastoral—so that we have you in the system and can do whatever vetting needs to be done in advance.

  3. Skip the Big Bundle of Supplies. While the inclination is to bundle blankets and clothes and toys and send them to the site, the reality is that money is more needed. Those supplies need sorting and managing, taking volunteers from other work. Maybe hold a yard sale instead, and then send the resulting funds as a donation.

  4. Business Support and Professional Volunteers Needed. Get creative about your business and line-of-work and think about what you can offer. Carpenters, plumbers, and builders are always needed, but event-planners are equally skilled in their ability to parachute in and bring order to chaos. Work with your colleagues to put together teams that are available to rotate through the disaster, bringing needed support and continuity.

  5. Heavy Equipment and Transportation Needs are Paramount. Local companies from Hawaiian Airlines to Young Brothers to trucking companies often step in, transporting supplies to the impacted area. Excavators and those with heavy equipment are greatly needed in the hours following the disaster and during the months of recovery.

  6. Preparedness is Everything. While on-the-ground training works, being prepared and trained in advance helps the process move so much more quickly. Sign up for classes with FEMA or The Army to learn the protocols and best practices so that you can hit the ground knowing the lingo and what to do first.

  7. Minutes Turn to Months and then Years. Don’t forget. A year after the lava flow, there are over 70 families in Puna still without homes. Long-term recovery takes at least six months, and often as long as five years. Consider setting up a regular donation to the specific disaster fund so that the team on-the-ground can count on it and keep the work going. Remember, too, that 100 percent of your donation to disaster relief goes to that local work.

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