How you can help

Many people are not content with just giving money to a large organization in times of disaster and crisis. Those of us well outside the area of impact are left feeling helpless and wanting to do more, and often have a hard time figuring out just what it is we can do. Here's a quick guide to other ways you can help the victims of Katrina and the aftermath:

NON-CASH DONATIONS

Cindy Sheehan and the Veterans for Peace have both taken their traveling camps to the outskirts of New Orleans, and are going to be delivering much-needed supplies. Most needed now: paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, baby diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, Pedialyte, baby items in general, powder, lotion, handy wipes, sterile gloves, electrolytes, LARGE cans of veggies, school supplies, and anything else to lift people's spirits. Visit on VFPRoadTrips.org for instructions on shipping these things there, or driving them there yourself.

Salvation Army centers across the country are taking in non-cash donations; the FirstGov.gov site says that most needed items are baby food and emergency supplies. You can also register goods that you might have — including construction and building supplies! — with the Southwest Regional Response Network, a project of FEMA.

RECONNECTING PEOPLE

PeopleFinder is a volunteer-driven database project attempting to compile all of the information currently found online — from official Red Cross databases to Craigslist lost-and-found postings — into one central repository, and to republish that information in a way that will be easily searchable and amendable to existing databases. I spoke with Zack Rosen, founder of CivicSpace Labs yesterday afternoon, and he was stunned by the response they received when the project was launched on Friday. "By Saturday, we had around 100 developers working on the various pieces; by this afternoon, volunteers have processed over 60,000 records of information. I haven't ever seen anything like it." They're expecting to have the search functions finished by the weekend, and will be working with the Red Cross and FEMA to finalize some of the implementation.

A number of technicians at Community Wireless Rapid Response are putting together a low-powered FM radio network, and are in need of radio equipment donations. They need 10,000 radios and the batteries to run them ASAP. They're also working on setting up WiFi and other wireless communications, and are based out of Houston. Equipment and techies in that area are needed.

HOUSING OFFERS

MoveOn has the largest housing network operation running so far, and the Louisiana state government has endorsed it on their site (note that all housing shelters listed for the state of Louisiana are listed as full).

EVERYTHING ELSE

The most comprehensive site I've seen thus far is the Texas Responds site sponsored by the One Star Foundation. This is for Texans and non-Texans alike to find donation (cash and non-cash) and volunteer opportunities where needs are named and met. From what I saw in the non-cash department, it looked like school supplies were desperately needed in many shelters and schools in Texas, due to the overwhelming number of children that are now going to be starting school there.

The Katrina Help Wiki is a good repository for finding out what's needed and what's currently being offered. The current news on that site, as of Tuesday evening, is indicating that shelter sites in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are overwhelmed and in need of supplies; housing remains a major issue.

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