Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico are without power, water, or homes in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Some of us who want to help with the effort to provide for these victims and to rebuild their lives may be overwhelmed by trying to figure out the best way to do so, and how to not get taken in by scams.
As with any disaster, there are a number of ways in which you can help those affected by the storm, both financially and with material donations.
While there are any number of organizations independently seeking donations for Maria relief, the government of Puerto Rico has set up a webpage dedicated to donations for relief.
Among the organizations listed are the American Red Cross and the United for Puerto Rico initiative started by the First lady of Puerto Rico Beatriz Rosselló.
United for Puerto Rico is described as a collaboration with the private sector, with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the passage of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María.
The effort is sponsored by several major companies including Burger King, Coca-Cola, First Bank, Bacardi, and Walmart Puerto Rico.
Separately, several charities and non-profit organizations have already begun taking donations to help the 3.4 million people who call Puerto Rico home.
For instance, UNICEF has set up a specific donation page for those looking to offer assistance in Puerto Rico.
“UNICEF USA is mobilizing to get immediate, critical support to the children of Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria,” the site notes, promising that 90% of every dollar spent goes directly to helping the children of the island.
GoFundMe also has a dedicated page to Puerto Rico relief efforts. There donors can choose from a variety of campaigns dedicated to different relief efforts.
Lending A Hand
The Puerto Rican government’s website also offers an option for volunteers to donate their time to recovery efforts.
Any organization or individual who wants to volunteer following the disaster can direct their commutations to the office by emailing email@example.com.
The American Red Cross is also always looking for volunteers who can make a difference in disaster-struck areas.
For instance, the organization notes that volunteers carry out 90% of the “humanitarian work of the Red Cross.”
“Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things,” the Red Cross says.
Local organizations around the country have already begun gathering supplies for Puerto Rico.
NBC Chicago reports that a cargo plane full of supplies — including food, toiletries and water — left O’Hare International Airport for Puerto Rico Monday morning.
In Florida, volunteers from several agencies have worked together to collect between 20 to 25 tons of supplies for the island, Local 10 News reports.
As for what you can do in your neighborhood, try reaching out to local organizations, your local American Red Cross location, or providing a monetary donation to organizations that will then purchase needed supplies.
For instance, the Hispanic Federation, along with a coalition of community organizations and elected officials, has created the “Unidos”: A Hurricane Relief Fund for Hurricane Maria Victims in Puerto Rico in New York.
The New York City mayor’s office Tweeted a call for donations such as batteries, diapers, baby food, feminine hygiene products, and more to be dropped off in the city.
Of course, with every legitimate organization accepting donations for relief to Puerto Rico, there are those that are just trying to line their own pockets.
There are certain red-flag behaviors that should alert you to the likelihood you’re being duped by a bogus charity. The Federal Trade Commission has a checklist for dealing with a possible charity to make sure you’re not getting duped, including:
Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money: If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
Call the charity: Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.
Ask for written information: This includes its full name, address, and telephone number.
Contact the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations in your state: The National Association of State Charity Officials has contact information for regulators in each state available on its website. Your state office also can verify how much of your donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and management expenses.
FEMA also reminded consumers on the best ways to help those following Maria’s landfall.