“Do you have food on that truck? We are desperate.” This was the call that came in as volunteers were sorting, boxing, labeling, wrapping and loading supplies onto a truck bound from New York to Florida.
The answer was “Yes!” along with school supplies, water, baby food, packets of Halloween candy, toys and first aid items, all donated by caring community members in Ithaca and nearby Owego, New York.
According to The Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), donating money is almost the best way to give aid. That’s why United Way quickly established funds to help victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the earthquake in Mexico. To date, we’ve raised more than $59 million for mid- and long-term recovery efforts related to these disasters. This includes money donated to the national funds and to funds set up by local United Ways.
But here’s the thing. People want to do more than just donate money. Steph Woodward at United Way of Tompkins County heard from lots of people asking to do more. People like Karen Trask, who called to say her friend Kent Tryon could get a truck and drive supplies to relief organizations serving people in need, and then led a supply drive after Harvey hit, and then again after Irma/Maria. Along with Tioga United Way, they coordinated publicity and got schools, the Boy Scouts and other groups on board to lead drives and serve as drop off sites.
Kent drove a tractor trailer truck full of supplies 1,600 miles to Texas and back. Then he made another trip to southern Florida, with the food loaded last, to be moved quickly into the hands of 400 evacuees from Puerto Rico, one-third of them children, living at the Bonaventure Evacuation Shelter. Both deliveries contained enough desks, computers and supplies to set up a typical classroom, so that students can keep up with their schooling and perhaps experience a bit of a “normal” life after upheaval and loss.
Volunteers on the ground are an important part of these disaster response efforts as well. United Way recommends registering with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. You will be contacted once public officials and disaster relief organizations have had an opportunity to assess the damage and identify unmet needs. There will be volunteer needs for many months and years after these disasters, so I also encourage you to contact your local United Way to get involved and learn how to be prepared to respond to an emergency in your area.