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Disaster Relief: What Your Family Can Do to Help

When your kids see people in obvious need of help, they may ask, "Is there anything I can do?"

The answer is, yes. When I was a child, I remember the news being flooded with pictures of starving African children, and my brothers and I would make an annual donation of ten dollars to CARE, an organization that fights global poverty. Last Christmas my father gave his four grandkids money they could use to each buy a toy to donate to Toys for Tots. It helped them think about how other kids live, and they took great care in choosing their gifts.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, and war are big media stories and kids see the victims and refugees, often children, on the nightly news or in the morning paper. Sometimes the disaster is in your state, sometimes halfway around the world, but help is always needed.

Your family's first reaction to the news stories may be to gather up old clothes and extra canned goods, but first check with the agencies listed below. Often there are too many supplies and not enough money to get them there. The major relief agencies are usually the first to jump to action, and they will publicize what is needed.

Once you know what is needed, what can kids do?

Find out what the weather is like for the people you are trying to help. If it's winter, last summer's outgrown shorts are not going to be as helpful as a sweater you don't wear anymore. Start a clothing drive at your school, church, or scout troop. And have a plan to get the goods to the drop-off site or picked up on time for delivery.

Your local supermarket may have a canned goods drive going on; check with them. If not, start your own. As with clothing, be sure to let people know what can be used and what would just be added weight.

Often, money is what is most needed. A charity drive, bake sale, or car wash can be a good way to raise money. Make sure a parent or another adult is involved , so you can figure out the best way to handle the money. Most agencies need checks made out to them. A big jar to collect coins works great, as long as you take it to the bank to be counted (most have automatic counting machines which save hours of stacking and rolling coins), and then deposit the money into the adult's account so she can write the check.

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