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Your guide to ethical disaster response

We all want to help when communities are affected by climate disasters. However, some well-intended actions do more harm than good. Below are some tips and strategies to help you effectively support people recovering from a disaster.

Want to volunteer?

  • Get training before the next disaster.
  • Connect with a volunteer organization.
  • Consider volunteering for long-term community recovery.

Want to donate?

  • Think cash! Financial contributions are usually the most effective donation.
  • Used clothing is rarely a useful item to collect for disaster relief.
  • Confirm what a community needs before you begin collecting goods!
  • Don’t start collecting, packing or shipping unless you have a known recipient to accept the donations.
  • Donated goods should be well packed and clearly labeled.

Helpful links


Cash or donated goods that the organizations say they need! You can call voluntary organizations involved in disaster relief to ask which donated goods to give. Often, when large-scale disasters occur, the State’s Office of Emergency Management will create a toll-free donations hotline for the public to call to learn what is best to donate.

Make sure to get precise information before collecting any donated goods. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) state, “It is often a mistake to assume what is needed in a disaster. Over the years, there has been considerable waste of countless tons of clothing because it was collected and sent with no prior coordination.”

Cash contributions are the most efficient way of helping the people in need. There are many voluntary organizations with considerable experience in disaster relief in areas like needs assessment, clean-up, mass feeding, mass sheltering, first aid, crisis counseling, pastoral care, childcare, pet care, home repair, family casework, meeting “unmet needs” and many other areas. When the public supports these voluntary organizations with financial contributions, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the people in need after a disaster.

Also, it helps the local economy! Voluntary organizations will often spend the money in the local disaster area thereby helping the local economy to recover. Cash donations, rather than unsolicited donated goods, avoid the costly and time-consuming process of collecting, sorting, packing, transporting, unloading, resorting, storing, repackaging and distributing the goods. The needs of survivors are better met and the local economy is better supported: a win-win!

Get some disaster training, especially before the next disaster strikes. You’ll be in a better position to find meaningful volunteer work after the disaster and better prepared to help the community. Contact volunteer organizations to see how you can get training and follow the local news carefully to learn what volunteer efforts are being organized. If there’s a volunteer center in the area, that is usually a great source of information about volunteer opportunities after a disaster. 

In the immediate disaster response period, there are often many people who want to volunteer at the same time. Remember to be patient. How you can get involved may not be perfectly clear until a few days after the incident. There are often greater needs for volunteer help when the community enters the long-term recovery period.

One other thing to remember: Volunteers should plan to be as self-sufficient as possible so that they are of little, if any, burden on the disaster-affected community.

We’re working to honor our partnerships and commitments in ways that align with University Policy and protect everyone’s health and well-being.

The following standards are based on UNC’s Community Standards for Health and Safety and are meant to provide specific examples based on impacts to CCPS programming:

  • Whenever possible, CCPS encourages virtual service opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CCPS will not sponsor any in-person group service activities for fall semester 2020.
  • CCPS will not sponsor or fund overnight trips or any out-of-state travel.
  • Students may choose to engage in service projects in-person on an individual, voluntary basis.
  • If students choose to engage in direct, in-person service, participants should adhere to any specific policies maintained by individual partners as well as UNC Community Standards.
  • Committee meetings or planning activities should be conducted virtually.
  • As always, direct service events should be planned in partnership with community organizations and in response to identified needs.
  • CCPS also encourages creativity in creating meaningful connections and opportunities through virtual meetings, programs and service. Staff are available to assist or brainstorm options, if necessary.

The pandemic has created a difficult time for everyone, reinforcing the importance of being a supportive community. By taking precautionary steps, we will help slow the spread of this disease and mitigate its effects. We encourage you to continue following the guidance of public health and University officials regarding hand-washing and physical distancing.