That's the question that is on the lips of millions of Americans as they contemplate the intense need that Hurricane Katrina left in its wake. Relief organizations and government agencies alike are stressing that the best way people can help the hurricane relief effort is by donating money. That's why Beliefnet has pledged to add an extra $1000 to its contribution for every 100 Beliefnet users who donate to these charities.
But if you can't donate money, or just want to do more, here are some concrete actions you can take to make a difference in the lives of so many:
1. Get Creative with Your Congregation
Across the country, houses of worship are coming together to help the relief effort. For example, a church in Roanoke, VA owns a campground with "really nice concrete buildings of rooms with heat/AC, beds, chairs, and dressers in each room," says reader Deborah C. The campground is taking in 35-40 families. Some wealthy members of Beliefnet member Hlharper01's congregation came together and arranged to donate their vacation condominiums indefinitely to families in need of a place to stay while they figure out what their next step will be. Hlharper01 posted, "I wouldn't join a church who didn't help those in need, in crisis and at other times."
The new organization OpenChurches.com was launched with the purpose of helping willing congregations make a difference.
2. Send Needed Items--Like Garbage Bags, Batteries & Toilet Paper
The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi has posted a frequently updated list of items that are desperately needed in the region. Mail items such as extension cords, batteries, garbage bags, bandages, toilet paper, and blankets to Ascension Lutheran Church, 6481 Old Canton Road, Jackson, MS 39236. The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Houston is also in need of items like Clorox wipes, hearing aid batteries, and denture supplies (see list). A caveat: Relief agencies say that unsolicited donations of goods, while well-intentioned, are not recommended. Only send goods if they are specifically requested.
3. Add Your Prayers
Join the growing group of Beliefnet members who have contributed their spiritual energy to the relief effort by posting a message on our prayer circle. At moments of crisis, some people feel their faith shaken, others feel it strengthened. Help others rediscover the meaning of a "faith community" by sharing your prayer. In addition, organizing a prayer circle or vigil in your house of worship can help bring people together for a common purpose.
4. Offer Someone a Job
In addition to losing all of their worldly goods, countless Katrina victims have also lost their livelihoods, particularly if they find themselves resettling far from home. The website Hireability.com is providing a free job posting service to hiring managers who want to offer jobs to storm victims. SOSHotels.com is another place to offer jobs to displaced workers in the hotel and hospitality service industry. Alternatively, those with resume preparation skills can volunteer to help displaced people brush up their job applications by contacting job banks, workforce centers, or upcoming job fairs.
5. Open Your Doors
Do you have a spare bedroom, couch, or other space you might share with a Katrina evacuee? Sign up with ShelterForKatrina.org, HurricaneHousing.org, or another reputable organization as a host for a displaced family. You can take inspiration from Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling, who has volunteered to house a family of 9 for one year.
6. Help Save an Animal
After the astounding human toll, an aspect of Hurricane Katrina's devastation that has captured the nation's attention is the danger that animals in the region face. If you are an equestrian with a pasture, or a large-animal vet, you might be able to help rescue a horse that is homeless after the storm. If you're more of a dog person, you can contribute to the Humane Society of the United States to help that group rescue stranded dogs. For bird enthusiasts, the American Federation of Aviculture, Inc. is raising money to rescue pet birds that were displaced from their owners in the storm.
7. Help a Child Learn
Across the country, schools are welcoming children who are left without a place to learn as the new school year begins. In Austin, Texas alone, at least 600 children are in need of school supplies and backpacks to help them succeed. Visit the Austin Independent School District website for information on how to donate school uniforms, empty backpacks, and other supplies. Or mail these items to Austin ISD Project HELP, 901 Neal Street, Portable 451, Austin, Texas 78702. Another organization, DonorsChoose, is putting together "Classroom Care Packages" to send to students in various locations who were dislocated by the storm.
8. Get Your Company Involved
Companies in the pharmaceutical industry, plus Dow Chemical Company, Kraft Foods, Wachovia Bank and others are making sizable contributions and providing matching gifts for employee donations to the hurricane relief effort. If your company does not yet have such a program, encourage those in charge to institute one.
9. Send Medical Supplies
Many evacuees who suffer from chronic health problems like diabetes or asthma are in dire need of supplies in storm-ravaged areas. You can donate medical supplies through Portland, Oregon-based Northwest Medical Teams, a Christian organization. Donate diabetes or asthma supplies, over-the-counter cold medications and pain relievers, multi-vitamins, and hygiene supplies like shampoo (no flip tops), soap, topical ointments, and anti-bacterial hand gel. Be sure that medications are not expired. Mail supplies to 14150 Southwest Milton Court, Tigard, Oregon 97224. Alternatively, contribute money by calling 1-800-959-HEAL. Also, people can organize or participate in blood drives to donate blood to those who need it.
10. Donate Airline Miles
Several airlines, including United, Continental, Delta, and Northwest, have instituted programs where people can donate airline miles that will be used to send evacuees to destinations where they can find shelter, jobs, and in some cases, new lives. Visit the Red Cross' airline donation page to donate.