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Charities: What you can do
5 Tips: Ways you can help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
September 6, 2005: 3:57 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Ever since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the region on last week hundreds of thousands of Louisiana and Mississippi residents have been forced to leave their homes.

In today's 5 tips we'll tell you what you can do now to help those who are suffering.

1. Share your space

Thousands of evacuees are streaming out of Katrina-ravaged states. And you can help give them shelter. However, this may not be the best option for older people or for young families, according to Bruce Deel of City of Refuge. There is no background or screening for some of these people, he says. Some may have mental disorders or criminal records.

Make sure you've considered all of the consequences of taking in an evacuee. You should consider the financial and emotional impact of sheltering a hurricane survivor. And the length of time you have company is unknown.

Right now Deel is telling people they can expect guests to stay at least between 90 and 180 days. If you are willing to open your doors, check out www.hurricanehousing.org.

The roommate-matching company RoomateClick.com also launched a program that will connect people looking for shelter with people willing to share their home or apartment. The company is in the process of setting up Internet service centers in the Southeast and establishing a call center.

If you want to offer accommodations can log onto www.RC-Katrina.com and fill out a form that gives more detail on who they would be willing to shelter. People can also post their housing needs on the Web site.

The CEO of the company, Bobbi Babitz, says that she's already been hearing from people who have an extra tent or an extra camper. "We're really trying to reach out to people in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Georgia," she says.

2. Join the community

If you would like to see what other needs you may be able to fulfill, check out the community-centered Web site of Craig's list. This site lets you offer your own helping hand directly. Click on "New Orleans" if you have any information about missing people or if you would like to offer transportation or shelter to those who are looking.

Right now there are messages from people all across the country asking what they can do. Craig's list is also a good resource if you want to find out about local fund-raising events or volunteer programs in your area.

3. Give your time

The AFL-CIO is calling for volunteers. If you're willing to help distribute food, or drive trucks and otherwise help with rescue efforts in the region, go to the union's Web site at www.aflcio.organd click on "Help Hurricane Victims." Be aware that conditions will be quite difficult because volunteers will be assigned to areas most in need of help.

Volunteers do not need special training, although the applicant must be in good health. You may be sleeping on floors or in union halls and the days will be long. The length of volunteer work must be at least one week, according to the organization. To get an application, e-mail the organization at hurricanevolunteers@aflcio.org.

If you'd like to do something more on the community level, think about volunteering at your local food drive. Go to www.secondharvest.org and find what food drives are in your area.

For example, Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque is looking for volunteers to sort and distribute food to the Gulf Coast Area. Maryland's Food Bank is also looking for volunteers to help sort and box food. Check out www.mdfoodbank.org. Right now Second Harvest is strongly recommending that people make financial contributions instead of donating goods at this point.

4. Get the best bang for your buck

Go to an established charity. That advice is from the charity evaluation organization Charity Navigator.

"All charities are in crisis mode right now, so it's best to go with companies like the American Red Cross or AmeriCares if you really want to effect change," says Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator.

Of course you want to make sure that the money you're donating is going where you want it to go. Your best bet is to check out www.charitynavigator.org and look at the charities that are specifically focused on the hurricane disaster region. This list will also give you a sense of what charities are in the best financial condition.

Once you have selected a charity, you should go on their Web site and read about where exactly the money is going. If anything is unclear, you should call the charity and see what they're attempting to accomplish. For a more in-depth analysis of the charity, call the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance for a free report on the company. Check out www.give.org. And don't forget that you can tell the charity how you would like your money used.

5. Avoid scammers

There is usually a spike in the number of charity scams after an event like Katrina, according to Art Taylor of the Better Business Bureau. A number of bogus Web sites that have names like www.katrinafamilies.com and www.neworleanscharities.com have already been uncovered.

Miniutti says that if any charity calls you and tries to solicit donations, you should hang up immediately. "Telemarketers take up to 95 percent of the profit from a donation," she says. Legitimate charities are not wasting their time or their money on this.

Taylor says that there have also been some Web sites that use the names of well-known charities, but that are in essence just trying to get your credit card information. He notes that you should never respond to unsolicited e-mails. Make sure charities are legitimate by checking out www.give.org.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page


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