How You Can Help Louisiana Flood Victims

(The National Guard prepares for flooding in Louisiana)

Disastrous floods have struck Louisiana yet again. The toll has been staggering. This week, more than 66,000 Louisianans have filed for FEMA assistance. As many as 40,000 homes have been damaged by flood waters, and at least 30,000 people have been rescued from either vehicles or homes by authorities due to the Louisiana flood.

The total cost of the Red Cross’ operations in the region is expected to reach $30 million in order to cope with the crisis, which has claimed 11 lives so far.

In addition to having to rebuild after losing so much, residents in Louisiana face a number of other issues that stem from this natural disaster, the likes of which are becoming all-too-common as climate change continues to ravage coastal regions. Lingering health risks – such as mold exposure – will haunt residents for months to come.

Celebrities and average citizens alike have pitched in to help those affected. In a high-profile move, Taylor Swift has donated $1 million for relief efforts. Lady Gaga has also contributed, having donated an undisclosed sum.

You, too, can help flood victims rebound. The following vetted organizations are organizing and/or providing on-the-ground services for Louisiana residents. Make a gift today:

Red Cross
United Way
Louisiana Strong

Terror in Brussels: How to Help

(Brussels, Belgium)

Today’s harrowing attacks in Brussels, Belgium are yet another reminder of how far we have to go for the cause of peace. While details emerge, the cold hard reality of the loss of life is certain. Instead of responding with gloom in the face of terror, however, we can respond with humanity.

Considering giving to the Red Cross of Belgium as it triages the disaster on the ground, supporting victims and providing vital care. Also consider donating to the Foundation for Peace – an organization that supports victims of terror.

If you are in Brussels, there are a number of places to donate blood. Residents have been deploying the hashtags #OpenHouse and #IkWilHelpen to offer shelter for those stuck outside during the government-mandated lockdown.

The terror in Brussels will not be the last tragedy of its kind, but the response it provokes can move us down a path to eradicating such wanton hate and violence.

The Flint Water Crisis, and How You Can Help

(The Flint River, which contains water so corrosive that it introduced lead into the city’s water supply)

An environmental and human disaster continues to unravel in Flint, Michigan, where residents are plagued by lead-contaminated water.

In April, 2014, city officials decided to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron (which also supplies Detroit with its potable water) to the Flint River, which was widely known even then as a severely contaminated body of water. The move was intended to cut costs, a priority of authorities all over debt-stricken Michigan, where deindustrialization and a shrinking tax-base have left the state immiserated.

Designed to cut $5 million over several years, the switch has precipitated a disaster that some analysts predict could cost as much as $1.5 billion to fix.

A class action law suit has been filed alleging that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Flint city officials are responsible for switching the beleaguered city’s water with a source that was “dangerous, unsafe and … inadequately treated” simply because it was a cheaper option.

The water from the Flint River is so toxic that its corrosiveness has introduced lead from the city’s pipes into the water system. Even though the city has switched back to Lake Huron, the damage is done; the pipe system will continue emitting dangerous lead into the water supply.

The crisis has spurred three state of emergencies – declared by authorities at the local, state, and federal levels. The State Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced that he will investigate how the events unfolded. “The situation in Flint is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life,” Schuette remarked in a statement made to reporters. The National Guard has been deployed to distribute bottled water and filters.

Somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people are believed to have experienced severe health issues resulting from lead poisoning stemming from the contamination, which may also be responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed 10 people.

The long-term costs are going to be huge, and will no doubt further complicate the fiscal situation for local and state governments already under severe strain. Much of the cost of this egregious mismanagement will likely fall on the federal government.

There are, however, a number of ways that everyday citizens can help alleviate some of the stress faced by Flint residents. Through United Way, people can donate to the Flint Water Fund to help provide safe water for residents. The Flint Child Health and Development Fund is accepting donations to help provide medical and dietary care for sick children.

Key Elements Group LLC will continue covering the story as more details and updated cost estimates emerge.

Making a Difference on MLK Day

Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and nonprofits and citizens across the United States are finding their own ways of celebrating the life of the great civil rights figure.

Since its inception in 1983, MILK day has acted as a day of service, spurring volunteerism and bringing people together in the same vein that civil rights organizers came together during MLK’s time. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, last year’s holiday brought out hundreds of thousands volunteers across the country. People donated clothing and food items, worked as mentors, supported job-seekers, and built homes in what the agency refers to as “a day on, not a day off.”

In the past, local communities have hosted initiatives that found nonprofits, government agencies, and everyday citizens working together for the public good, such as Arizona’s “Year of Service” Community Festival or Portland, Oregon’s many coordinated events.

The day also presents fundraising opportunities for nonprofits. United Way Midlands, for example, created a whole weekend fundraising drive to assist a handful of select nonprofits in the Omaha area.

Not all voices in the world of philanthropy, however, are thrilled with how MLK Day manifests. Writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, columnist Rick Cohen remarks that run-of-the-mill volunteer projects that causal do gooders participant in have “always evinced a terrible myopia about the meaning and memory of Dr. King” that ultimately sell “Dr. King and the nation’s racial troubles tragically short.”

He continues:

This year, more than any in recent times, the onus on all of us should be to take back Martin Luther King Day from the emphasis on top-down, one-day, feel-good volunteer fix-up projects and refocus attention on strategies and actions to address racial inequity and injustice today… In 2015, we should all be showing courage to analyze, address, and attack overt, structural, institutional, and implicit racism on the day on which we all too often miss the point of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy by making his holiday one that doesn’t forthrightly address issues of race.

With the tumultuous events of the last year, including tragic police shootings and hostile discourse over race relations, there is no doubt a way to balance the volunteerism embedded in MLK Day’s history and the pressing social issues facing us today. When hundreds of thousands of people come together to improve their communities and help their neighbors, the possibility for cross-cultural and ethnic communication is immense. Such a hybrid – one that breeds both action and thoughtful dialogue – would likely satisfy the vision of the day’s namesake.

How NGOs – And You – Can Help Nepal

As the tremors faded, aid officials and victims of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal began taking stock of the destruction and pain left in the disaster’s wake. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have perished, with over 9,000 injured and up to 8 million directly impacted by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, many people are sleeping out in the open, avoiding the danger posed by damaged and destroyed buildings. Makeshift tent cities surround the capital. Lingering threats include landslides, one of which claimed the lives of as many as 200 people in the days following the earthquake.

According to a spokesperson from World Vision – an aid group – landslides are one of the most pressing concerns at this juncture: “Villages . . . are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls.” With the geological stress from the earthquake, more of these may occur in the coming days.

Nepal is among the poorest nations on earth, and has inadequate resources and infrastructure to cope with the tall challenges facing it. To make matters worse, the country is also remote and geographically isolated. Some villages are extremely inaccessible, posing difficulty for aid providers, rescue teams, and government agencies.

With the severity of the crisis and Nepal’s preexisting poverty, commentators are making inevitable comparisons to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen points out a number of considerations that NGOs need to make in order to avoid mistakes and controversies that arose from relief efforts in Haiti. It is essential for NGOs to work closely with Nepalese authorities, he writes, and not “bypass them as they did so often in the case of Haiti.”  Accountability is also an issue, with NGO self-regulation in underdeveloped countries often resulting in poor oversight.

Lastly, Cohen remarks that “[n]o State Farm or Allstate is going to rebuild the homes of people who lost their shelter,” and that the “millions of Nepalese affected by the earthquake need to be helped back beyond where they were.”

Though seemingly cavalier to state now, this disaster may be an opportunity for long-term improvements for the Nepalese people, as well as a chance for NGOs to shore up infrastructure and operations to help in this process.

There are a number of ways you can help. These vetted organizations are accepting donations for relief efforts. 

ActionAid: USA

American Jewish World Service


Catholic Relief Services

Heart to Heart International

Save the Children

United States Fund for UNICEF

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