Ailts: In the wake of Harvey and Irma, it’s time to reconsider how we’re donating

Responsible donating is a critical factor in providing victims with the help they need.

Ellen Ailts

After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit, many Americans did not hesitate to donate what they could to charitable organizations such as Red Cross. So far, Red Cross has raised $300 million in the wake of these tropical storms; with Hurricane Jose potentially making landfall on the Eastern seaboard next week, we will almost certainly see that total increase. 

Of course, such a large collective donating charitably is always uplifting to see, but whether or not donors look into which charities will use their money most effectively is becoming an increasingly important question. Red Cross is a popular option for many because of its convenience and ubiquity, being a charity widely promoted by major corporations and public figures. However, Red Cross has come under fire recently for its previous failures in responding to large-scale disaster relief, including disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and the Haiti earthquake of 2010. In the aftermath of Haiti, Red Cross was unable to account for how it spent $488 million in donations, including how many people were aided by their organization. In reality, there wasn’t much the Red Cross could do with that money besides provide things like blankets, hygiene kits and temporary shelter; they even gave some of the money to other groups that could use it more effectively.

In 2014, ProPublica released a study about Red Cross, with shocking findings. Among a myriad of other issues, there are reports of Red Cross lacking basic supplies, or supplies going to waste — tens of thousands of meals in some cases. And though it’s still early, there has been evidence of internal chaos during recent storms. For example, a Miami school chief said Red Cross did not show up to manage the opening of shelters. The American Red Cross brings in more than $2.6 billion a year, and yet, the organization is too often unable to meet basic needs of victims. 

Most of us, especially college students, are fairly limited in the amount of money we can donate to charities in times of disaster. The fact that the Red Cross has wasted so much of their donation money, put the trust of the public on thin ice and, worst of all, not provided adequate relief to many victims, is frustrating and disheartening to say the least. But it’s essential that we aren’t wary of aid organizations altogether — Charity Navigator is a helpful nonprofit to look to when doing research. There are many local charities doing vital work in areas of disaster. Look into organizations such as Volunteer Florida, Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville, Boca Helping Hands, Fondos Unidos Puerto Rico and Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to aid victims of Irma; for victims of Harvey, consider the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Houston Food Bank and United Way of Greater Houston. 

These are only a fraction of local charities doing important work to help their communities and the victims of these storms, and it’s been shown that local charities are usually your best bet, considering their significant experience working in the area. There are also other organizations who are providing consistently effective and organized relief: check out St. Bernard Project, Brother’s Brother Foundation and Direct Relief, among others. Donating wisely is an important responsibility: not only will your money have a greater chance of providing actual relief to those in need, but it’s also the key way to change the establishment by giving to organizations you want to see become the norm.