Gulf Coast charities target immediate needs and long-term goals after Hurricane Irma

From Sarasota Herald Tribune

After the heavy winds, high water and power outages of Hurricane Irma, plenty of people on the Gulf Coast need help.

Plenty of people want to help, too, but wonder how to get started.

How can they make a donation? What will make a difference? Where should they turn?

“There’s been a lot of us playing middle man,” said John Annis, vice president of community investment at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. “We’re like”

Local charities and nonprofits are surveying agencies to identify immediate needs, long-term goals and the best ways to address them.

This week, food and shelter are a priority. Next month, it may be economic needs and homeless prevention.

“What’s challenging about this storm is that our entire region is affected,” said Deanna Willsey, chief marketing officer for the Suncoast United Way. “A lot of what we’re doing right now is coordinating. I’m hearing that food delivery is going to be quite a challenge in DeSoto County because of the lack of power.”

Organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army, along with local food banks, responded just after Hurricane Irma swept through Florida last weekend.

The hardest hit areas were in the Florida Keys, Naples and Jacksonville, but plenty of neighborhoods remain without power in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Officials at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation are already looking at coming weeks and months. How will the storm affect service workers who’ve lost hours and pay because of flooding and power outages?

“These are the households which will suffer disproportionately from Hurricane Irma,” Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for community investment at Gulf Coast Community Foundation, said. “There are needs in this community and I’d hate to see them overshadowed by the destruction in other places in Florida.”

The Patterson Foundation and other Gulf Coast groups are contributing to disaster relief funds and recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. These same foundations support service organizations such as the Catholic Charities, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Harvest House and the YMCA.

Horses and ‘voluntourism’

In Sarasota, donors with specific concerns can visit The Giving Partner website for information on local nonprofit groups.

“Say you’re interested in animals — horses,” Annis said, turning to his computer. “You search ‘horses’ and here are six organizations that work with horses. This is one for the Sixteen Hand Horse Sanctuary and you can see their needs listed right there.”

Most nonprofits accept donations. Many welcome volunteers. Churches and neighborhood groups often organize volunteer work groups.

The United Way is still coordinating local efforts after Hurricane Irma. In days to come, the organization will be recruiting volunteers at

Help sometimes arrives in surprising ways.

Annis got a call from the Lido Beach Resort, which is hosting a business conference next week. Those attending the meeting decided they would like to volunteer with hurricane relief efforts. There is little doubt that a local agency will have work for 50 people on Tuesday.

“What was going to be one of their beach days, one of their free days, they decided to give back,” said Karen Rangel, regional director of sales at the resort. “It’s called voluntourism.”

Don’t be scammed

After every natural disaster, there are scammers who call people or send e-mails trying to collect money for dubious charities or outright frauds.

Wary donors can check local organizations with The Giving Partner at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County: 941-955-3000.

State organizations can be checked at the Florida Philanthropic Network: 813-983-7399.

Large national organizations can be checked at the Charity Navigator: 201-818-1288.

A single phone call or internet search could reassure donors about unfamiliar charities.

“If they’re not in the Giving Partner or Charity Navigator, I would pause,” said Annis. “You want to make sure it’s a reputable organization, something you’ve checked out.”