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Make sure your Haiti donation goes to quake aid

Best option is to give cash to a reputable organization that has a track record of working in Haiti.

By Teresa Mears Jan 14, 2010 3:45PM

A tragedy of the magnitude of the earthquake that hit Haiti makes us want to help, but we also want to make sure that our donations get to the people in need. Scams diverted much-needed aid sent to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


The best strategy is to give to an established charity that is already working in Haiti. Haiti is an extraordinarily complex country, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere even before this disaster. It is not an easy place to work.


What is needed most now is money.


“The fastest way to get food to the people in the affected areas is to bring food in from the countryside,” Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, told The New York Times.

The Red Cross estimated that some 3 million people will require aid, ranging from shelter to food and clean water, and many Haitians could need help for a full year.


Though it is wise to be skeptical of appeals posted on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the widely circulated “text HAITI to the number 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross” campaign is real, and those donations will go to the Red Cross. The $10 will be added to your phone bill. The campaign to text YELE to 501501 to donate $5 to Haitian musician Wyclef Jean’s charity, Yéle Haiti, also is real.


The Red Cross is not accepting volunteers to help in Haiti. It has teams of volunteers who are trained for disaster relief. Some blood is also being sent from Florida.

While many organizations are collecting clothing, food and other items, the difficulty and expense of sending items to Haiti make those donations impractical in many cases. Some organizations in South Florida, which has a large Haitian community, are collecting food, clothing and other items, but those organizations send goods to Haiti all the time and have mechanisms in place for transport. The rumor that UPS is offering free shipping to Haiti is not true, though the company has pledged to donate $1 million in cash and shipping aid to major charities.


Rumors that American Airlines is flying doctors and nurses to Haiti for free also are not true, the company told CNN. The airline has suspended service to Haiti, though its planes are bringing in relief supplies. The airline is offering frequent-flier miles for donations of $50 or more to the Red Cross.


Spirit Airlines is offering 5,000 miles, enough for a free flight, to the first 200,000 members of its frequent-flier program who donate at least $5 to UNICEF, the Red Cross or Yéle Haiti.


Some employers are matching donations.


These are some established charities on the ground in Haiti providing earthquake relief. All have donation links on their Web sites:

All the major media organizations have lists of additional charities. A good one to check is CNN, which has a list of charities vetted by its correspondents. The Miami Herald also has an extensive list of groups helping Haiti.


To check out a charity, go to Charity Navigator, an independent, nonprofit organization that evaluates philanthropic groups for effectiveness and financial stability.


Major international organizations are working together to coordinate relief efforts, reported. The organizations created a system of working together after problems with uncoordinated efforts following the 2004 tsunami.


The FBI offered these tips for avoiding Internet donation scams:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) e-mails, including clicking links within those messages.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as survivors or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social-networking sites.
  • Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations using Internet resources that may assist in confirming a group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes. 
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

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