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Disaster Relief Groups Distribute Aid To Flood-Ravaged Texas


Disaster relief groups have begun distributing massive amounts of aid throughout flooded parts of Texas - food, water and medical supplies. They anticipate the need for help will grow in the weeks and months ahead. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, it can be a challenge making sure the right charitable aid gets to the right place at the right time.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Derrick Chubbs is president and CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin. They weren't directly affected by this week's floods, so he says they're in a good position to help colleagues who weren't so lucky like the Houston Food Bank, which was shut down by the storm. Now the Central Texas Food Bank is sending in emergency supplies.

DERRICK CHUBBS: Such as handheld snack items because, you know, there are many instances where there probably won't be a can opener and there's not likely any power.

FESSLER: They also sent a truck full of meat today to the San Antonio Food Bank, and they have other trucks filled with baby food and other disaster supplies ready to go. Chubbs knows this is just the beginning.

CHUBBS: There is going to be a lot of need here. And our inventories are going to shrink quickly. And we need assistance. And we need your help.

FESSLER: But by help he needs cash. Like other nonprofits, Texas food banks are for the most part encouraging donors to give money, which can be used to buy relief supplies that are needed the most. Sometimes eager donors send truckloads of products like food, blankets and clothing that end up in a pile, unsorted and unused.

BOB OTTENHOFF: That's frequently the urge. And most often that is the wrong thing to do.

FESSLER: Bob Ottenhoff is president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which encourages donors to think about the whole life of a disaster, which can mean months, even years of assistance. Ottenhoff notes that right now Texas streets are flooded and warehouses are shut down.

OTTENHOFF: There's no place to store anything. There's no place to distribute anything. And that's going to be the case for some time.

FESSLER: So his group has set up a special Hurricane Harvey recovery fund which will be used to finance long-term needs such as rebuilding homes in the areas devastated by the floods. They've raised more than $300,000 so far, and today Facebook said it will match up to an additional $1 million in donations. Americares is a nonprofit that distributes medical supplies to disaster victims. It has also set up a relief fund which has already raised $1.5 million. Spokeswoman Donna Porstner thinks that's just a fraction of what her group will need.

DONNA PORSTNER: You know, a lot of times in an emergency like this one, people flee their homes in a hurry. And sometimes they'll take some medicine with them. Other times they'll just leave rapidly and not take anything with them.

FESSLER: She expects that they'll be providing medication such as insulin for diabetics for some time to come. Aid groups say the need for help in this disaster will likely be unprecedented. Brad Kieserman oversees disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross. He says they're sheltering about 23,000 people in Texas right now and that the number will likely grow to 30,000.

BRAD KIESERMAN: We are certainly going to need people's help, their generosity, their philanthropy.

FESSLER: Even though the Red Cross has been criticized for its past use of disaster donations, Kieserman says they've learned from their mistakes and whatever people give now will be put to good use.

KIESERMAN: I would encourage people to also look at other charities and other organizations that need help, whether you volunteer your time, you give blood. All of those things are going to be necessary.

FESSLER: He says there will be plenty of need to go around. Pam Fessler, NPR News.


Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.