How to Help Victims of Hurricane Maria
Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands will be recovering for years from Hurricane Maria's destruction. If you want to help the islands and their residents, check out these charities.
Question: After a month filled with hurricanes, I've been particularly worried about the victims of Hurricane Maria because a lot of the Caribbean's infrastructure was destroyed and the islands can be hard to access. What can I do to help them?
Answer: You can help by donating to charitable groups trying to meet victims' immediate needs -- fuel, food and fresh water -- or charities that focus on the longer-term rebuilding of the Caribbean islands, including Dominica, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Begin your search for a place to donate by checking with charity watchdogs. CharityNavigator.org and the Better Business Bureau's Give.org have lists of charities that meet their standards and focus on Hurricane Maria relief.
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Two organizations on both lists are Project HOPE, which sent a medical team to Puerto Rico to provide emergency care after Hurricane Maria, and Americares, which sent shipments of medicine and medical supplies to Puerto Rico and Dominica.
Hurricane Irma hit Florida and the Caribbean. The devastation that followed shortly thereafter from Hurricane Maria centered on the Caribbean, including the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as other island nations, such as Dominica, which was hit particularly hard by the storm. For more information about international giving organizations involved in Caribbean relief efforts, see USAID's list.
One organization on the list is the Global Giving Foundation, which started a Puerto Rico and Caribbean Hurricane Relief fund to work with local nonprofits to provide food, water, medicine and other emergency supplies and longer-term recovery assistance. For more information, see Global Giving's Hurricane Maria Fast Facts. Also on the list is UNICEF USA's hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, where they're sending emergency relief kits and immediate aid primarily for children.
Local organizations are also helping. The First Lady of Puerto Rico and private companies created United for Puerto Rico to aid in the territory's recovery. The government of Dominica set up the Dominica Hurricane Maria Relief Fund. The United Way also has an Irma/Maria recovery fund to support United Ways in the Southeast U.S., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and partners in other damaged areas in the Caribbean. The focus is primarily on longer-term rebuilding needs. You can also contribute directly to the United Way Hurricanes Irma and Maria Relief fund in Puerto Rico and to the United Way of the U.S. Virgin Islands' Hurricane Irma & Maria relief fund.
Community foundations in hurricane-stricken areas are also collecting donations and distributing them to local charities that provide hands-on assistance. For example, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands will help local groups with Hurricane Irma and Maria relief and recovery. Also see the Council on Foundations' Hurricanes Irma and Maria resources to guide you in your charitable giving and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy's 2017 Hurricanes in the Caribbean resource page.
Even though donations surge soon after a hurricane, people often forget to help with the long rebuilding process, which can take years. Some organizations are dedicated to both stages of assistance. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has disaster responders on the ground now to help with immediate needs, but you can also sign up for the Hurricane Recovery Volunteer Registry to learn about volunteer opportunities when the rebuilding finally begins.
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As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.