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November 18, 2013

Send money — not stuff — help typhoon victims

Experts say people just want to help after tragedies. like Typhoon Haiyan.

(Continued)

She recalls in the days after Hurricane Katrina when storm survivors were evacuated to the Houston Astrodome, someone sent thousands of pounds of cheese — a shipment far too big for any refrigerator there to hold. Another well-meaning donor dispatched a truckload filled with patent leather shoes.

“People absolutely have good intentions,” Sweeny says. “Many of us see people who’ve lost everything. They’re standing there with nothing. The instinct is that anything will help make their lives better. But that’s not always the case.”

After Hurricane Mitch devastated parts of Central America in 1998, Sweeny was working for the Red Cross in Arizona when a woman came in one day with a live pig she wanted to donate. The would-be benefactor thought it would be a good way for a farm family to start a new breed. Sweeny explained the many reasons she could not ship a live animal.

It all turned out well: The woman auctioned off the pig and gave the proceeds to the Red Cross.

Many experts say after massive disasters such as the one in the Philippines, it’s best to contribute to humanitarian groups with a proven track record.

One reason is to avoid swindlers and scam artists who may try to appear credible by giving themselves names that sound like established charities or are connected to the disaster. “It happens every time — people see the story on the news and look to help,” says Matthew Viola, senior program analyst at Charity Navigator. “Take your time and pick out a good one.”

His nonprofit’s website, www.charitynavigator.org, evaluates nearly 7,000 charities with a zero-to-four star rating scale — only three-and-four star organizations are recommended — in a variety of categories, including transparency, accountability and the amount of money spent on actual programs. It has a special link for donating to typhoon relief with tips, including how to ensure a contribution is designated for this disaster.

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