How To Help People In Puerto Rico and Mexico

Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Lalley


by Nick Taylor

President Trump now plans to visit Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. But how do we help people there and in Mexico after the last devastating earthquake? These latest demonstrations of nature’s power test our hearts? So much need for relief.  So much damage in so little time, so many people suffering, so many lives to rebuild. 

Few of us paid attention back in June, when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. Boy, were they right!

Hurricane Maria blasted through the Caribbean seeming to take aim at the islands spared by Irma, and Puerto Rico took the brunt of it.  Maria decimated Puerto Rico’s power grid and water system. Governor Ricardo Rosselló said the U.S. territory was on the brink of a “humanitarian crisis” and begged U.S. legislators to give the island commonwealth the same assistance and attention that hurricane-ravaged states get. 

President Trump said he would visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, October 3.  He described the island as “literally destroyed.”

Remember Mexico

And then there’s Mexico City and the earthquake that collapsed buildings trapping hundreds in piles of rubble. Interior Minister Luis Felipe Puente tweeted on September 26 and put the death toll at 333. 

The governments in charge are all stretched thin. So are relief organizations. But they can’t help at all without donations, so here are some of them.

So how to we help with relief?

First, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster would like to hear from volunteers to work in Puerto Rico, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The most effective charities and relief organizations in specific areas are often those with local ties.

In Puerto Rico those include:

Caritas Puerto Rico, formerly Catholic Social Services of Puerto Rico

Fondos Unidos de Puerto Rico (United Way)

The Community Foundation of Puerto Rico  

Hurricane Maria Children’s Relief Fund (Save the Children)

The American Red Cross is also on the ground in Puerto Rico providing assistance.

Unicef, Global Giving, Oxfam, Habitat for Humanity,  and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy also need donations to do their work in Puerto Rico.

To help in Mexico City, where actress Salma Hayek teamed up with Unicef and pledged to match the first $100,000 in donations to help earthquake victims, the front-line charities include, 

The International Community Foundation

Global Giving

Oxfam Mexico


The American Red Cross, while not entirely transparent in how it spends its money, is on the ground and working in Mexico and can use donations.

And Facebook friends tell me they donate through their church relief groups. For example, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) responds to disasters worldwide and the church pays 100 percent of the administrative costs.

While many of us want to help, it’s a good idea to avoid charity scams that pop up and make sure that you put your money where it actually helps.

 New York Attorney General Eric  Schneiderman issued an alert about scams. And  his watch list provides good tips.

Give to Established Charities. Donate to organizations you are familiar with, or have an experience assisting in disaster relief. Get information about charities that pop up solely in response to the hurricane or those with unfamiliar names.

Be Cautious With Telephone Solicitations

Professional fundraiser often make the telephone calls asking for donations to charity. You can always hang up.  Or, ask whether the telemarketer is registered and how much of your donation goes to the charity and how much to the telemarketer. Many telemarketers receive most of the money they raise. Giving directly to a charity avoids those costs.

Check Before You Text A Contribution

Check the charity’s website or call the charity to confirm it has authorized contributions to be made via text message. One thing to keep in mind is that donations via text messaging may not reach the charity until after your phone bill is paid. So you might want to donate directly.

Check Before Donating to an Online Giving Site

Make sure your contribution to campaigns set up by individuals on sites such as GoFundMe or CrowdRise will go to charity and not to the person raising the funds. Don’t contribute unless you know that person.

Don’t Respond to Unsolicited Spam Emails

These formats are usually not associated with legitimate charities. Charities.

Never Give Cash

Give your contribution by credit card or a check made payable to the charity.

Be Careful About Personal Information

Avoid giving credit card or personal information over the phone or by text message. In all cases, make sure you are familiar with the organization and check to see that the fundraising campaign is legitimate before donating.

Charity Navigator and Charity Watch can help steer you to the organizations that will make the most of your donation dollar. 

Meanwhile, a week after the NOAA predicted a worst-than-usual hurricane season this year, the Trump administration announced it was cutting the agency’s budget by 16 percent and stripping $5 million from programs that are working on advanced modeling techniques to provide better storm and weather forecasting.

The budget also cuts federal money for a West Coast earthquake early warning system and tsunami monitoring stations. So the need to help the victims of hurricanes and other disasters will continue for a long time.