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The world has seen its fair share of natural disasters this past year, with Hurricane Harvey devastating the city of Houston, Puerto Rico being nearly obliterated by Hurricane Maria, and California seeing its worst wildfires in state history. The empathy that we feel as human beings following a tragic event is truly remarkable, and almost always used for good. Many people may feel compelled to help those in need, but knowing what and how to donate in the wake of a natural disaster is crucial.

The first thing you should do if you wish to contribute to the betterment of natural disaster victims is donate cash first, and your personal time second. Relief efforts will need all the financial assistance they can get in order to gather the necessary goods for immediate help. Donating actual items like food and clothing can actually backfire early on.

Say you want to donate a number of articles of your personal clothing to those in need. These may be suited for an adult man or woman, but the shelter that receives them may have a higher number of children. The same can be said for food. Donating canned goods is typically beneficial, but in a shelter that needs baby formula or diapers, these prove useless. Donating cash avoids both of these issues, allowing the organizations helping to spend it efficiently and obtain exactly what they need to help the victims.

Avoid donating everything at once. Your contributions should last the length of the recovery period for the victims of a given natural disaster. Houston is expected to take several years to fully recover from the damages sustained during Hurricane Harvey, so a donation big donation given immediately may only help for the first month or so. Consider how quickly the country’s attention shifts after a natural disaster has occurred. Once the donations stop coming in, relief efforts take even longer.

Always do your research before choosing a charity as well. As deplorable as it is, many false organizations take advantage of natural disasters, claiming to help the victims when they are actually keeping all monetary donations for themselves. Donating impulsively can encourage these scams. Rather than choosing the first charity advertised via social media, look up which organizations actually benefit the most through sites like CharityWatch or Charity Navigator. These third-party websites effectively vet any given charity and grade them based on the percentage of donations received versus those spent on the actual victims.

Lastly, donating your time is always great way to help those in need. If you can afford to travel to the area affected, helping out home renovation teams, volunteering at local shelters, or delivering meals can make a huge difference in the lives of people affected. Depending on the size of the area damaged by said natural disaster and the number of victims, volunteers can be hard to come by.