Help me help them.
April 15, 2012 6:11 AM   Subscribe

A city in my area was hit by a tornado last night. How do I volunteer to help with the aftermath?

I don't have any medical skills or anything like that. I'm just a person who wants to help with... whatever they need help with. Do I just drive down and pitch in? Present myself to the police department or another entity? If you've done this before, what did you do?
posted by ThisKindNepenthe to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
Do I just drive down and pitch in?

No. You absolutely do not do this. A disaster area is chaotic enough without random people dropping-in trying to help.

Your best bet would probably be to contact your local Red Cross and ask how one can volunteer to assist.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:42 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Donate money to the Red Cross or other disaster relief organization. Do not go into a disaster area to "help", especially if you've got no relevant skills.
posted by dfriedman at 6:53 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Red Cross. The people who volunteer are well-trained and coordinate with fire and rescue. There is rarely a need for untrained volunteers in the way you see with sandbag crews in floods.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:04 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A neighboring town was hit here a couple weeks ago. For the very short term afterwards people were told to stay away but within a few days there was a public appeal for help clearing debris. For the first few days a lot of people helped with food - check with your local Red Cross or the city to see what they need but volunteers to help cook meals and the like was a big part of the immediate need.
posted by leslies at 7:21 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Alabama, so I did some volunteering after the April tornado last year. While there won't be much that you can do immediately in terms of the search and rescue effort (and, indeed, you shouldn't inquire with the police or just show up, as other commenters have noted), your help will be much appreciated in the weeks and months to come as aid groups will need help distributing donated goods, cleaning up, etc. Volunteer opportunities may be announced on the local news, but you should also check with your local United Way and Red Cross chapters. It's best to pour your efforts and donations into an organized system that those agencies provide. Good for you for wanting to help, I'm sure it will be needed.
posted by jespresso at 7:26 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stay out of the way until there is a formal call for volunteers.

A note about donations: Barring some massive, infrastructure-destroying apocalypse, the Red Cross cannot do anything with a grocery bag full of canned goods or a tray of brownies. They don't have enough staff to open all those little cans, and they legally can't serve anything they didn't cook or open themselves. Donated clothes have to be sorted and cleaned--don't bring them unless they ask for them. Money is the best bet.

It is very kind of you to help. One thing that people often forget is that people still have very dire needs weeks and months after a disaster, when public sense of emergency has faded. If you are not trained to provide emergency assistance, volunteering at a later date to help victims get back on their feet may be more beneficial in the long run.

It is very kind of you to want to help.
posted by elizeh at 7:30 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You say you don't have medical training, but do you have experience in construction, an operator license for heavy machinery, certification in accounting or teaching, or some other thing that not everybody has and might eventually be useful? If so, let your local Red Cross chapter know now that they can call you later if needed.

In a month or two, contact your regional FEMA and Red Cross to find out how you can be part of their community response organizations so that next time, you will be trained and in the system and will be able to provide useful assistance.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:40 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, everyone. I'm headed down with a group to feed the first responders and cleanup crews.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 12:44 PM on April 16, 2012

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