When a disaster strikes, those of us watching from afar have an immediate impulse to give our belongings to those who have lost everything. The impulse to give things like food or clothing is not necessarily a bad one. But if your goal is to help in a way that is as meaningful as possible, giving canned goods, clothes, or other items to disaster survivors is often less effective than giving one simple item: Money. When resources on the ground are limited, and in communities like St. John where those helping on the ground are themselves disaster survivors, everyone’s time and energy are precious. Physical goods create extra work for those active in recovery. Organizations and volunteers have to devote their time and resources to the collection, sorting, storage, and distribution of goods. This involves money and valuable man hours that should be spent addressing a community’s immediate, most pressing concerns. Moreover, in post-disaster areas there may not be enough actual space to deal with donated goods. When the majority of physical structures in a community are destroyed, safe and secure long term storage is nearly impossible. With communities in a state of disrepair, and so much storm debris on the ground to deal with, donated goods can create a severe strain on a community’s waste management system.  The best and most meaningful act of charity that you can do for a community after a disaster strikes is to donate money, not physical goods. Providing funding to community organizations eliminates many of the aforementioned challenges, and allows those of us on the ground who are engaged in recovery work to truly meet the community’s needs as they occur.  Here are a few things to remember when donating:
  • Donate money directly to trusted, well-established nonprofit organizations with ties to the community. Use free websites like GuideStar and Global Giving to get background information on them, and ensure that they will be good stewards of your generosity.
  • Use Go Fund Me or Facebook fundraisers to support individuals or families. Avoid using these platforms to donate to nonprofits, as they create another layer of complication in the giving process. There can be hidden fees and long delays in funding disbursement. 
If you are going to donate physical goods, wait for community organizations on the ground to tell you what the community needs. Do not provide what you think a community needs, and do not start mass-donation efforts until you know exactly what is needed. The needs on the ground are ever changing after a disaster. Wait for the community to express itself to you rather than jumping to your own conclusions. At the end of the day, providing “stuff” is a short term solution to a long term problem, and is a less effective way of helping those in need. Things like maintaining shelters and rebuilding destroyed homes take time and funding. Money provides the mechanism to get these big projects started, while also helping organizations on the ground address the most immediate needs that a community has after a disaster. 
The Territory entered the 2020 hurricane season on high alert, facing the forecast of an active season paired with the COVID-19 pandemic. At Love City Strong, we began modifying and updating our preparedness and response plans early on, reaching out to our partners at Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), the Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH), the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for guidance and best practices for responding to a disaster during a global health crisis.  Thanks to our work responding to the pandemic on St. John, our team was already used to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and adhering to social distancing protocols. We modified our annual community outreach programs, becoming less reliant on public events and leveraging public and private partnerships in order to successfully respond to two significant weather events while keeping residents informed.  Tropical Storm Isaias impacted the Territory on July 29th, and our response lasted from July 25th through July 30th. This large system moved quickly, but did not turn into a tropical storm until it passed just south of St Croix. Our team remained on alert and executed pre- and post-storm wellness checks in the community, shifting from at-home visits to conducting them entirely over the phone. We assisted residents with downed trees and minor storm debris on their property, and brought resources like solar powered lights to those experiencing power loss. A wave of severe weather associated with Tropical Storm Laura impacted the Territory in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 21st. Once again, what was expected to be a significant rain event stayed to our south, resulting in a limited impact. Within 24 hours of the forecast impact, we knew that the path would keep Laura from being much of a threat to the USVI, but our team continued to execute pre- storm wellness checks, and helped several residents with boarding up and clearing their property. This hurricane season saw us working closely with VITEMA and our other government partners, as well as our sister nonprofits affiliated with Virgin Islands Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VI VOAD), to keep St. John prepared. Between storms this year, we delivered sandbags to over 100 households, and handed out blue roofing via a drive-through system alongside our partners. Both of these events would normally be done in the form of large public gatherings, but we were able to execute them successfully while still observing social distancing and PPE use. The 2020 hurricane season taught us much about the unpredictable nature of disaster preparedness, and emphasized the complex relationship between multiple disasters that share the same impact window. I am proud of the work our team has done this year, in the face of so many challenges. As the season comes to a close, we look forward to further refining our deployment plans, expanding our preparedness and resilience programming, and serving the community in the years to come.