In times of extreme need after a disaster people rush to help. They gather food, water and other household supplies. They volunteer. They write checks.
All are valuable and useful to humanitarian nonprofits, but it’s that last option – money – that can be most rapidly applied to areas in need.
“I’m one of the people who thinks cash is really sexy,” said Greg Kirkpatrick, executive director and president of Habitat for Humanity NC.
Right now Habitat needs money to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew.
In Fayetteville, 93 Habitat homes were damaged by wind and flood waters. The same happened in smaller numbers in towns like Princeville, Tarboro and Lumberton. The families whose homes these are have shelter elsewhere for now, but their local Habitat affiliates are struggling to help them and to stay afloat themselves. It’ll take a year or more to get everything back as it was, Kirkpatrick said, and Habitat is working to raise money to sustain affiliates in Fayetteville and other Matthew-affected communities.
“Cash is always king,” he said. “It translates directly into building houses.”
Habitat isn’t the only organization having to rebuild.
The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina is trying to help its partner agencies in eastern North Carolina counties that were damaged by the storm.
Like Habitat, the Food Bank can do a lot of good quickly with monetary donations. The Food Bank can turn one donated dollar into five meals, said Jessica Whichard, the nonprofit’s senior manager of communications. That’s a lot more mileage from one dollar than an individual would get at the grocery store.
How do they manage it?
“We connect with farmers, for instance. If they have extra crops, say more sweet potatoes than they can sell, that food comes to us for little or not cost,” Whichard said. “We spend money on the transportation to pick it up and distribute it.”
The Food Bank has similar relationships with grocers and other businesses. Food Lion, for example, gives the Food Bank the produce that it can no longer sell, but which is still usable. The Food Bank can turn that produce around quickly to get it in the hands of people who need it before it goes bad.
In that way, also, the Food Bank is able to ensure that people are getting healthy foods.
“We’re distributing almost 40 percent produce,” Whichard said.
“One of the things we’re focused on in our regular operations is providing healthy options for folks, and that we don’t want to change our focus when we’re focused on disaster,” she said. “We want to have water instead of soda. We want to have things like granola instead of cookies.”
While the organization can do more with monetary donations, Whichard said the food donations that follow in the wake of a disaster like Matthew also are essential to helping people quickly. Particularly useful are nonperishable foods such as cereals and cans of soup with pop tops that can be easily prepared and don’t require can openers or stoves. Household donations such as toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies are also welcome donations.
Beyond disaster relief
The Red Cross, too, can do a lot with monetary donations: money can be turned into aid very quickly.
“We will be on the ground until every need is met,” said regional communications officer Brittany Jennings. Many events were shifted so the organization could respond to Hurricane Matthew, and disaster recovery dominates the Red Cross schedule in North Carolina for the foreseeable future.
What they don’t necessarily need are your old clothes.
There are organizations that rely on donated clothing and other household goods because they operate thrift shops. These can be big charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army or smaller, local endeavors such as ReTails, the thrift shop operated by AnimalKind in Raleigh. But just sending a car or truckload of old clothing to the Red Cross or some other relief organization – unless they specifically ask for – can put a strain on operations that are already stretched.
As Kirkpatrick with Habitat explained: an endless stream of used clothing can be a burden to sort through. Habitat would rather put its efforts directly toward its central mission, he said.
If you don’t have the resources to donate funds, there’s something else most every organization also needs: your time.
“We are nothing without the power of volunteers,” said Jennings. They are always needed, she said, and always essential.
And not just after a disaster.
“There are thousands of people who live in substandard housing” throughout the state, Kirkpatrick explained. This demographic has an abiding need, with or without a natural disaster.
Whichard pointed out the same thing. The Food Bank may have a lot of resources focused on disaster relief, but its everyday operations haven’t changed: The 600,000 people in their service area who were food insecure before Matthew still are, even if their location wasn’t a disaster area.
“We haven’t shifted our focus,” Whichard said. “We know the population we serve every day is still there. We are covering both bases.”
The Food of Bank of Central and Eastern NC
1924 Capital Blvd.
Raleigh, N.C. 27604
Description: The Food Bank serves a network of more than 800 soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, and programs for children and adults in 34 counties in central and eastern North Carolina.
Donations needed: Money, non-perishable food, household supplies such as cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, paper products. Most needed items: canned fruits, peanut butter, dried beans, cereal, infant formula, granola bars, crackers, pasta, brown rice, soups. Pop-top cans and low sodium a plus. (See the website for warehouse locations which are the best best spot for dropping off donations.)
Volunteers: We are delighted to host groups at any of our six branches. Duties vary but may include sorting and repackaging bulk food items. Volunteers also needed to drive trucks to pick up or distribute food and coordinate food drives.
Habitat for Humanity of Wake County
2420 N. Raleigh Blvd.
Raleigh, N.C. 27604
Contact: Danita Morgan, 919-744-2401
Note: Most counties have a Habitat affiliate. To find the one nearest you, go to habitatnc.org/build
Donations needed: Funds are needed to build homes in partnership with families in need of affordable housing.
Volunteers needed: For one day for eight hours.
$10 would buy: A bundle of shingles.
$20 would buy: A bathroom sink.
$50 would buy: A double-paned window.
100 N. Peartree Lane
Raleigh, N.C. 27610
To donate: 800-733-2767. To donate to victims of the hurricane specifically text the word MATTHEW to 90999 to make a $10 donation
Donations: The Red Cross depends on donations to provide immediate relief. They are called in to help when families are displaced by fires and in times of disasters.