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Charities brace for threat from Irma. How you can help

  • Charities are still taking donations for Harvey victims even as Hurricane Irma churns toward Florida.
  • Nonprofits ask for cash donations instead of household goods, which can interfere with relief efforts.
  • Beware of scams: Check to make sure any solicitations for donations are backed by legitimate organizations.

If Hurricane Irma does what weather forecasters expect, help for hurricane victims is about to become even more urgent.

Irma, a Category 5 hurricane with sustained wind of 185 mph, is forecast to continue on its path of destruction across the Caribbean toward Florida, making U.S. landfall early Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

In southeast Texas, meanwhile, victims of Harvey are just starting the process of sorting through the devastation. In some places the storm dumped 50 inches of rain, leaving catastrophic flooding in its wake.

The most effective way to assist storm victims is through cash donations — not blankets or other goods — to organizations that have deployed volunteers to assist victims in the areas affected (or plan to, in the case of Irma).

"We know Americans are generous and want to do everything they can to help after a disaster. Unfortunately, collecting and sending food, clothing and other household items often does more harm than good," said American Red Cross spokeswoman Greta Gustafson. "Instead, the best way to support disaster victims is with a financial donation."

Basically, you don't want to clog up the supply line.

People put up shutters as they prepare the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre for Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 in Miami, Florida.
Getty Images
People put up shutters as they prepare the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre for Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

Before you donate, however, make sure the outfit seeking your money is legit. It's not uncommon for scam artists to emerge after disasters to prey on the charitably inclined. Spam emails or social media posts seeking donations for Harvey victims might look believable, but it's best to check out the group if you're unfamiliar with it.

You can do that at sites such as CharityNavigator.org or GuideStar. Charity Navigator also has a list of more than 40 groups that pass muster and are offering direct relief to communities devastated by Harvey's flooding.

And while taxes might not be at the forefront of your mind right now, remember that charitable donations to qualified nonprofit groups generally are tax-deductible if you itemize your return instead of taking the standard deduction, so keep your receipts.

"Unfortunately, collecting and sending food, clothing and other household items often does more harm than good.  " -Greta Gustafson, American Red Cross spokeswoman

Well-known groups taking donations specifically for Harvey victims include the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities.

Crowdfunding sites also still have campaigns going on for Harvey victims, including GlobalGiving.org, which is hoping to raise $5 million exclusively for emergency disaster relief and long-term recovery efforts. GoFundMe.com and YouCaring.com also have areas on their websites dedicated to fundraising efforts for people affected by Harvey.

Also, as Irma progresses, donors should check back to see how charities are responding. Typically, there will be separate fundraising campaigns for people to donate to each hurricane. If you donate by personal check, make sure to note in the memo line which hurricane donation the money was sent to for your records.