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How to Help Hurricane Irma Victims (and How to Avoid Scams)

The New York Times logo The New York Times 9/9/2017 By JACEY FORTIN
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As Hurricane Irma batters its way through the Caribbean and up toward southern Florida, here is a guide to how you can help the people it affects.

First, some general guidelines: The Center for International Disaster Information, a part of the United States Agency for International Development, offers useful tips on giving in the wake of disasters. Sending money is almost always the most efficient way to help, it emphasizes.

For those who find themselves near damaged communities and want to assist in person, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an association of disaster relief organizations, encourages people not to “self-deploy.” Instead, willing volunteers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Florida can register to be contacted by relief workers by signing up on the association’s website. The Red Cross is also helping to coordinate volunteers.

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A sign in Guadeloupe indicating where aid was being collected for St. Martin and St. Barthélemy after they were hit by Hurricane Irma. © Helene Valenzuela/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images A sign in Guadeloupe indicating where aid was being collected for St. Martin and St. Barthélemy after they were hit by Hurricane Irma. How to give

Think twice before you send any blankets, clothes or toys into a disaster area. Transporting, storing and sorting donated goods can divert resources away from more pressing work.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been in disaster situations where I’ve seen, literally, just warehouses filled with stuff that people give, just sitting there,” said Britt Lake, the chief program officer for GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding organization that connects donors with local relief organizations.

GlobalGiving’s Irma Relief Fund is accepting donations here. It vets the local organizations it helps fund and is well-regarded by charity watchdogs. (GlobalGiving prioritizes local organizations over the long term, but often steers money toward larger entities like Save the Children or the International Medical Corps during the early days of disaster response.)

Donors can also visit the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe to give money to the Direct Impact Fund, a nonprofit that distributes money to smaller campaigns within the United States and its territories.

GoFundMe also hosts individual crowdfunding campaigns for people and organizations. Those include several based outside the United States in case you would prefer to give directly to, say, The American University of Antigua, which is steering money toward Barbuda, or the Caribbean Eagles, a bikers’ group whose clubhouse was damaged in St. Martin.

(GoFundMe says fraud is rare. It says it works to verify that all funds go to intended recipients, but it cannot always verify the specific claims made by individual campaigners.)

You can also donate directly to larger organizations like Unicef, which will pay special attention to school-age children; Oxfam America, which is preparing for Hurricane Jose as it works on Irma recovery; and the American Red Cross, which has deployed disaster responders and delivered donated blood to hard-hit areas. (A series of reports by ProPublica and NPR called attention to a lack of financial transparency at the Red Cross and accused the organization of serious blunders in its responses to past disasters.)

And if you would like to help the non-humans in Irma’s path, organizations accepting donations for the welfare of animals include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Best Friends Animal Society and the South Florida Wildlife Center.

People in Guadeloupe donated food for the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy. © Helene Valenzuela/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images People in Guadeloupe donated food for the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy. What to watch out for

To make sure you are giving to a legitimate and effective charity, check whether it has been rated or accredited by an organization like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or the Better Business Bureau. These might not cover smaller, community-based charitable organizations. But you can read useful tips about choosing a charity from the Federal Trade Commission.

Among its recommendations: Do your research; don’t wire money or send cash; find out a charity’s address and phone number; call them if necessary; and be wary of charities that appear to be new.

Ms. Lake of GlobalGiving said that after major storms blow over and many emergency medical workers leave the scene, it is often up to local organizations to help rebuild communities. “These are organizations that are often overlooked and underfunded,’’ she said, “and they really do know their communities and are there for the long run.”

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