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November 20, 2013

Disaster specialist: 'Know the need' before trying to help

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - People wanting to help others who lost their homes and possessions from tornadoes should understand how they can be most effective before jumping in, a Purdue University disaster education specialist says.

Steve Cain, Purdue Extension Disaster Education Network homeland security project director, said people can help in three ways:

* Assist neighbors.

* Get involved with organizations that are responding.

* Donate cash that would go directly to meet specific needs of storm survivors.

"Cash is best," Cain said. "It is better to donate cash instead of goods - unless you specifically know someone who can use a specific item - because local responders can more readily convert that into what's needed."

Cain helped to coordinate hundreds of volunteers in the aftermath of tornadoes in Henryville and other areas of southern Indiana in March 2012. He is now helping in the response to storms, including tornadoes, that went through Indiana Nov. 17.

 People wanting to help can donate cash by working with their favorite charity, said Cain, who also is president of the disaster-aid relief group West Central Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), of which Purdue Extension is a member.

He suggested that those who are not familiar with organizations that actively work in disasters should visit http://www.nvoad.org/donate. Donations will go toward specific needs in affected areas.

Cain said donations such as clothing and household items can be difficult for disaster responders to handle and might not be needed in some areas. Cain suggested that individuals and organizations with goods they want to donate might be more effective if they sell those items at a garage sale and donate the money raised.

"It is best to know the need," he said.

Cain also offered other advice to those wanting to help:

* Get involved by being an affiliated volunteer. "Don't go to affected areas without aligning yourself with a recognized organization that has the means and the ability," he said. VOAD has a list of affiliated members and partners at http://www.nvoad.org/members and http://www.nvoad.org/partners.

* Be Prepared. "If you do volunteer, have a disaster supplies kit so that you aren't one of the victims you are trying to help," Cain said. "In this year's storm, when the power went out at our house, I only needed the hand-crank flashlight, candles and sanitary hand cleaners from my kit. It was great to have them easily at hand when the power went off." 

Writer: Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, robins89@purdue.edu 

Source: Steve Cain, 765-494-8410, cain@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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