Hurricane Sandy: How Can I Help?

In the U.S., Hurricane Sandy’s path of destruction swept through communities in South Carolina through Maine and as far west as Michigan. At its height, 8.5 million people in the U.S. were without power. Losses have been estimated at $30 billion from direct property damage and $20 billion from lost economic activity—$12 billion of which are in the heavily-affected New York Metropolitan Area. For donors who care about impact, here’s what you should know:

The current needs on the ground

Given the large area affected, the current needs vary widely across the country. Some of the most urgent needs are:

  • In residential communities along the Jersey shore (e.g., Brigantine and Egg Harbor Township), thousands of families have lost their homes and are in need of shelter and new, permanent housing.
  • In heavily hit neighborhoods of Staten Island, NY, 3,900 remain without heat or electrical power and many have lost all belongings from water damage.
  • In Haiti, Hurricane Sandy has wiped out Haiti’s already fragile, but essential agricultural sector, leaving 1.5 million people at risk for hunger.

How you can best help

Unless you have access to large numbers of needed items at a low cost (e.g., through a business that you run), you can best help by providing cash donations to first responder nonprofits, not product donations. Why? Because cash allows first responder nonprofits to get what is needed faster and more cost-effectively and to respond flexibly as needs change. For example, the American Red Cross is currently accessing and distributing items such as blankets, food, and cleaning supplies from partnership agencies and corporations. In addition, it is coordinating with local relief organizations to make sure they are matching their efforts to observed needs on the ground. These include The Salvation Army, as well as federal responders such as FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. Other partners include the Boy Scouts of America chapters, food banks, and religious congregations and organizations. Such scale and networks mean they can more quickly identify and meet needs, even as those needs evolve.

Examples of ways that American Red Cross and United Way—two, key first responder nonprofits—are currently addressing needs on the ground today:

  • Working with local and national partners to facilitate critical feeding and sheltering for hard-hit communities such as Ocean County, NJ and New York City
  • Tending to immediate basic needs, including distribution of cleanup kits (buckets, bleach, work gloves, and shovels) and comfort kits (personal products such as toothbrushes, soap, and combs) as well as diapers, infant formula, school supplies, winter outerwear, etc.
  • Facilitating emergency communications to reconnect families in heavily affected areas such as Rockaway, NY
  • Assisting with temporary housing, including rental or home mortgage payments (in particular, security deposits or brokerage fees for apartments) for people on Long Island and in Queens, NY
  • Coordinating access to physical and mental health services for individuals through on-the-ground caseworkers
  • Assisting affected individuals with accessing financial, legal, and other recovery resources (e.g., utility and transportation assistance, mold removal assistance) through government and nonprofit sources

There are many other people and organizations providing assistance to affected communities. They include:

  • Federal agencies like FEMA and the National Guard have registered people for disaster assistance and have deployed personnel to help with recovery efforts. The IRS has postponed certain deadlines for taxpayers who reside or have a business in the disaster area.
  • State and municipal governments are setting up disaster relief centers where residents can report damage, learn about eligibility for assistance, and seek shelter. Some governments have begun working through the initial “nuts-and-bolts” required for rebuilding, such as increased tree cutting removal services and waiving fees related to rebuilding (e.g., construction permits, water and sewer connection charges, suspending late payments for property taxes).
  • Businesses, such as Johnson & Johnson and T-Mobile, are providing relevant products and services, alongside financial donations, to shelters (e.g., hygiene kits, cells phones with unlimited minutes and chargers). Numerous investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have pledged sizable donations and special loan programs for businesses directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Many companies nationwide have also pledged to match employee donations to nonprofits serving hurricane-affected areas.

Know that needs will evolve and change

Most donors are drawn by immediate needs. Addressing urgent issues, such as food and emergency shelter, is essential. However, many of the highest impact opportunities may come from “building back better” (e.g., improved building codes) and prevention and mitigation efforts (e.g., early warning systems). Since it may take weeks or months for people to understand the long-term needs in each hard-hit community and to identify the local, best solutions, donors focused on impact have two options. One is to set aside some portion of their funding to address these needs as they crystalize in the future. Alternatively, donors can give today to hurricane recovery funds that have been set up to address the entire arc of disaster philanthropy—prepare, respond, recover, mitigate.  Examples include:

  • The United Way Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund which was established to address the near-term and long-term recovery needs of individuals, families, and communities along the Eastern Seaboard that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Donors can visit to donate to the Fund.
  • The American Red Cross Disaster Relief is working throughout the affected region to meet immediate needs and lay the groundwork for recovery. Caseworkers are continually evaluating the situation in local communities to determine needs and match individuals and families to federal resources, such as FEMA and local government. Donors can visit to donate to disaster recovery efforts, designating their donation to Hurricane Sandy.

In addition, the new Center for Disaster Philanthropy has developed a Hurricane Sandy Disaster Fund. The Center is especially interested in understanding philanthropic strategies for recovery and mitigation. If you wish to volunteer, you can find a local agency that is coordinating its efforts with others. Dial 2-1-1 or use the website to connect with volunteer opportunities to help others in your community or across the country. If you wish to help the millions of people affected in Haiti and other Caribbean regions, please see our guide Haiti: How Can I Help that describes both organizations and programmatic models with evidence of impact.

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Our thoughts are with those families and communities who have been most affected by Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. We hope that this guidance helps you help them move more quickly to recovery and rebuilding.