Giving Back in the Wake of Irene

Rutherford, NJ, near the Passaic River, 8/30/11

After several days spent preparing for a hurricane by stocking up on enough canned goods to feed the 101st Airborne for a week and tracking the storm’s every wobble on television, we found ourselves lucky. Aside from a loss of internet access for a bit, we got off easy. A glance back at the television, and then a few days spent outside with my gear, reminded me that while this may have been a “minor” storm, there’re quite a few people — many within a short walk of home, some farther afield — who didn’t get off nearly as easily.

I’ve profiled nonprofits in this space before, and will continue to do so. For right now, however, I’d like to encourage you to help your neighbors — whether they’re down the street, or a thousand miles away — in whatever way you can. I’ve compiled a few tips to hopefully make the process a bit easier.

Wallington, NJ, 8/30/11

Things you can do:

    • Donate. Whether it’s your time or your money, it will be put to good use.
    • Designate where you want the funds to go. The American Red Cross got a bit of a bad rap in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 after a controversy over money not going where the donors intended. The Red Cross learned from the experience, however, and has procedures in place so that if you specify that you’d like your donation to go to hurricane relief, that’s how it will be used; likewise, if you’d like your money to go to the organization’s general fund, you can donate with no strings attached. Other organizations have similar safeguards in place. If you’re not sure, ask, and don’t be shy about making your wishes clear.
    • If you want to donate goods — food, clothing, and the like — call in advance to find out what’s needed. This can vary widely based not only on geography, but also on what the organizations on the ground already have stockpiled, or have already received. They may well be up to their ears in canned goods but short on toiletries, for instance; a tube of Colgate may go much farther than a can of soup.
    • Unfortunately, some people with no scruples will see this as an opportunity to profit off of someone else’s misfortune. Be especially wary of giving your financial information (credit card numbers and the like) to someone on the basis of an email or telemarketing call. If something feels “off,” it probably is. If you’re not sure about an organization that’s soliciting your time or money, go to, which can help you to find out if an organization’s on the up and up, as well as what percentage of your donation will be used for aid versus administrative expenses.
    • Find out if your employer will match your donations, either by percentage or in full. If they do, what you give will be multiplied that much more.
    • Donate online or by text message. The funds will often be available much faster to organizations much faster than they would’ve been if you’d sent a check.
    • Finally, don’t forget smaller, often local organizations. Some of these, naturally, will be providing disaster assistance. Others may have missions not related to Irene at all, but they’ll still need your help. People are unfailingly generous when disaster strikes, but often the donations flow to larger, better-known organizations at the expense of smaller ones.
Spring Lake Boardwalk, 8/29/11
    Curious what you can do as a photographer? If you live in or near an area that’s been effected, use your talents to get the word out, along with visuals. If it’s an area that’s been neglected by the media, so much the better. And of course, the usual rules of tact, ethics, and common sense apply: stay safe, be transparent about what you’re doing and why, and if someone would rather you didn’t photograph them (or their property), honor their wishes.  Think about it: this is a stressful enough time for many people, and the last thing you want to do is add to that stress.

To donate or get help, find your local Red Cross chapter here.

Visit Charity Navigator for information before you donate.

Full disclosure: the link for donations that appears below this post is for this blog, NOT for the American Red Cross or any other nonprofit. If you want to donate, please do it via the Red Cross link above, or via your local chapter.