Give Responsibly After a Disaster

Don’t Let Your Kindness go to Waste: Give Responsibly after a Disaster

While we are thankful that our area escaped the devastating blow from Hurricane Ian, our hearts go out to our fellow Floridians who are dealing with the unfathomable destruction in Ian’s wake. As we watch the news, we’re so overwhelmed with grief and empathy when we see other people hurting that we feel compelled to do something to help – especially when a disaster hits as close to home as Ian did. In my 30+ years in the United Way movement, I’ve witnessed many disaster relief efforts and there are several tips I've accumulated about how to give responsibility after a disaster: 


  1. Donating items can do more harm than good. 
    While donating material goods is a tremendous gesture of love, the influx of items can often hinder efficient relief operations. These well-meaning offerings can inundate shelters and warehouses and drain the time and energy of volunteers. When items are donated, all of them must be checked to verify that perishable food is not expired and water is properly sealed, or that clothing is clean and appropriate. What's left must be thrown away, and many times this can cause an even bigger burden for a community already in chaos.
  2. Monetary donations to a reputable organization are the best way to help. 
    Donating money may seem impersonal and some may have concerns that funds will not reach those who need it most, however, it is the most efficient way to help.  In the aftermath of a disaster, needs are constantly changing. Financial contributions allow for maximum flexibility to ensure survivors are getting exactly what they need, when they need it, like childcare, medications, or gas cards so they can move or return home. If you are having a hard time finding a trustworthy organization, start with the organizations you know in your own community.  
  3. Volunteer strategically.
    Just because you can travel to a disaster site doesn’t mean you should. Showing up unannounced can add to the chaos and could potentially be unsafe. Wait until specific needs and opportunities have been identified. Plus, right after a disaster, it is easy for a community to get overwhelmed by all the caring people who want to help. Organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army or a local United Way will train, mobilize and deploy volunteers to help where it’s needed most. 
  4. Disaster response is a sprint, but recovery is a marathon.  
    It will take years for communities to recover after Hurricane Ian, yet the world’s attention and empathy after a disaster can be short-lived. Many times, when the cameras stop rolling and attention is drawn to the next news story, donors and volunteers follow suit. And this is when help is most critical! Financial contributions will be needed to help rebuild or repair homes, to provide social services, such as mental health and more. If you can make a financial contribution, consider staggering your donation over a longer timeframe. 

We live in a big-hearted community, and I know there is no shortage of people who will raise their hands to help. If we all make more informed decisions, we’ll empower local communities by providing the help they really need to start rebuilding their lives. That’s what it means to Live United.

Carol G. Houwaart-Diez is the President/CEO of United Way of Martin County. United Way of Martin County has created a Hurricane Ian Relief Fund to provide a trusted vehicle for supporters through which to give. 

100% of these funds will be distributed through the United Way network to directly help those impacted most in local communities throughout Florida. If you would like to help, you can do so online at