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Volunteering and Donating in a Disaster


Disaster volunteers are priceless but disaster survivors are our purpose. In the event of a disaster in our state, a Volunteer Coordination Center or VCC, may be set up in or near the impacted community. A Walk-in VCC is a space devoted to receiving, interviewing, and referring spontaneous volunteers. Spontaneous volunteers are those volunteers that show up ready to help, but are not already working with a voluntary organization.tables

If possible, individuals should consider joining a voluntary organization before a disaster strikes to learn valuable skills that are needed in disaster response. Some of these organizations include: Citizen Corps groups (CERT, VIPS, MRC, Fire Corps and Neighborhood Watch), the American Red Cross Utah Region, Team Rubicon, and religious organizations such as Churches of Scientology, The Salvation Army, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic Charities and more. For more information on joining a voluntary organization active in disasters please visit the Utah VOAD site.

In a community struggling to respond to and recover from a disaster, an influx of unexpected or unneeded volunteers and donations can make the process even more difficult. Before traveling to a disaster area to help, learn where and when your skills will be needed. Discuss ahead of time with volunteer organizers how your needs for food, water and shelter will be met while you are volunteering to ensure that you are prepared and not taking valuable resources from the disaster survivors.

If a recovery or response organization do ask for your help, be sure to find out where and when you will be needed, how to dress appropriately and what supplies you will need to bring. This may include food, water and personal protective equipment. Keep in mind that during a disaster first responders and disaster relief organizations may be working at capacity and an unexpected arrival of hundreds of volunteers may negatively impact their relief and recovery efforts. During a disaster, do not self-deploy to a disaster site unless specifically requested to do so by a qualified emergency response organization.


Donating cash is best.  Cash doesn’t need to be sorted, stored or distributed, and it allows a voluntary organization to apply the donation to the most urgent needs. Would you like to see what it costs to send a pair of jeans or 12 cans of tuna to a disaster? Visit Greatest Good Calculator to learn the real costs behind donating goods. If you have already collected material donations, consider one of the 55 Ways to Re-purpose a Material Donation.

It is always heartening to see the compassion that Americans show for people affected by disasters. When emergencies happen locally and overseas, individuals, groups and communities in the U.S. are quick to organize support to help as many people as possible.

The most effective donations respond to people’s needs, which can change every day as disaster situations evolve. Collecting clothing, food, bottled water, toys and other household items may feel more meaningful for donors than monetary donations. But even small financial contributions can do more good for more people more efficiently than unsolicited material donations. For example, financial donations can support critical health and family reunification programs now, and help with rebuilding later.  Food and household items can always be purchased near the disaster site, even in famine situations. Local purchases help the local economy while serving more people because of charitable organizations’ bulk buying power.

In contrast, uninvited material donations can clog supply chains, take space needed to stage life-saving relief supplies and divert relief workers’ time. Managing piles of unsolicited items adds to the cost of emergency response by forcing changes to distribution plans and requiring disposal at further expense. Further, if these donations are released into local markets, it can put merchants out of business, adding economic stress to already fragile conditions.  And sending stuff leaves a carbon footprint every step of the way.

By giving responsibly, Americans can provide the most beneficial support to survivors and to disaster relief efforts. Monetary contributions to trusted relief agencies already on the ground in affected areas ensure that people receive exactly what they need, when they need it. Cash donations allow relief agencies to purchase supplies that are fresh and familiar to survivors, and that are culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate. No unsolicited material donation sent from the U.S. conveys all these benefits at such low cost.

People who do the most good practice smart compassion.  They stop, think, and give cash.

If giving cash is not possible, donations of goods should only be given when a request for these specific donations has been made. These requests can be found on the Utah NeedsFeed.