Hurricane Sandy: Red Cross, Other Relief Organizations See Social Media As 'Double-Edged Sword' For Relief Efforts

10/30/2012 05:49 pm ET | Updated Oct 31, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy eases away from the East Coast and the cleanup begins, major charitable organizations are increasing their reach and personalizing relief efforts thanks to social media.

Melanie Pipkin, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, said that Twitter and Facebook have allowed the organization to affect more people than it could in previous disasters. On Monday night, the number (90999) that the Red Cross made available so people could text message direct $10 donations was passed around Twitter at rapid fire. And as the storm surged, Pipkin said, thousands of posts per hour were mentioning the Red Cross, with Tweets from sources as varied as the WWE, Cindy Crawford, and Mitt Romney.

"As of 11:40 a.m. on Tuesday, we collected over 540,000 posts related to Sandy," Pipkin told The Huffington Post. "And the text-donation number was mentioned by lots of celebrities and other people with many followers, so that helped."

Though the staff at the Red Cross itself is small -- fewer than five are directly employed in full time social media operations -- Pipkin said that the organization has amassed a vast network of "digital volunteers" who can reach out to people on behalf of the Red Cross, and spread information across their own personal networks.

"Our volunteers in non-affected areas can be very active now," Pipkin said. "People a couple states away can offer emotional support, write back to someone who is home alone, let them know they're not alone and somebody is there for them, in addition to donating."

Robert Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, said that since Hurricane Katrina, social media has gotten better at alerting more people how to prepare for a storm of Sandy's magnitude.

"The communities in affected areas of Sandy were pre-positioned," said Ottenhoff. "States were all pretty well organized and declared disaster areas quickly, sometimes days before the worst of it. Social media played a big role in that."

All the major relief organizations are mobilized, in the immediate aftermath, to provide assistance, Ottenhoff said -- from Feeding America, which had prepared to distribute food, water and supplies to people in Sandy-affected areas, to The Humane Society, which had mobilized its own animal rescue efforts in advance of the storm. Ottenhoff said he learned from Katrina the importance of keeping philanthropic operations on the ground, even after the initial rush of media coverage.

"After the TV cameras are gone, people tend to move on and don't really think about it," Ottenthoff said. "What we're trying to do is organize private philanthropy, foundations, corporations, and focus their attention on recovery and rebuilding."

Robert Wolfe, co-founder of the crowd-funding social platform, Crowdrise, said social media can be a double-edged sword in disasters. On one hand, he said, the best way to raise money for a cause is to hear from friends or from people you follow and respect, since a personal note has so much more impact than some organization blanketing people with blind requests.

"But I think the potential risk is that, while its great at building awareness, some concern is that on Twitter success is a re-Tweet instead of taking real action," Wolfe said. "Something we all need to guard against is making sure it doesn't stop real action."

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist who has donated much of his time to philanthropy via his own Craig Connects network, already announced that he would match the first $25,000 of donations to hurricane relief efforts submitted via his Crowdrise page. He said he hopes other people in the tech realm will follow suit.

"It's important for anyone with resources to help out now," Newmark said. "That applies to big philanthropy players. I'd like to see more from my peers in the technology world, to get out the word better."

Newmark said that doing something like this is "the least a guy sitting behind a desk could do."

Others are thinking far (very far) outside the box. As Hannah Sassaman wrote on a Change.org petition page Monday night, she was watching HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" during the storm and got to thinking.

"Thousands of families and workers in Atlantic City have wrecked businesses, closed schools, delayed jobs, and destroyed beaches to look forward to tonight," Sassaman wrote. "HBO can use its powerful media platform to raise money and support local, state, and federal relief efforts."

As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 60 people had signed Sassaman's pledge.

For more ways you can help, in person or through donations, on a local or state level, read our Liveblog below. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has set up a fund for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, and The American Red Cross said blood donations are extremely helpful right now.

11/14/2012 5:53 PM EST

Momofuku Hosts Benefit For Shuttered Brooklyn Restaurant

The famed Asian fusion chain is hosting a benefit to help Governor, a Dumbo-based restaurant that was shuttered due to the storm.

From DNAinfo.com:

Space is limited to 30 seats, and the event will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on Nov. 17. Purchase a ticket here or make a direct donation to Governor here.

11/08/2012 6:05 PM EST

Help New York Cares Collect 50,000 Coats For Sandy Victims

New York Cares plans to donate 2,000 coats on Nov. 13 to Sandy victims in need and aims to collect a total of 50,000 coats. From a press release:

New or gently used coats can be sent or delivered directly to our warehouse, located at 157 West 31st Street between 6th and 7th Avenue. We will now be open this Saturday. Drop off your coats Monday through Saturday. 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Additional resources for coat collection can be found in our resource library.

11/08/2012 12:38 PM EST

Help Occupy Sandy

Occupy Sandy is bringing volunteers and critical resources to areas hit hard by the hurricane. Find out how you can volunteer here and donate here.

11/06/2012 11:14 AM EST

Donate Supplies To NYC Sandy Victims

Met Council, one of New York's largest human services agencies, is collecting much-needed supplies for Sandy victims throughout the five boroughs. From a press release:

"Drop off centers are open for item collection at 171 Lexington Avenue and 315 West 61st Street in Manhattan. A third collection will open this Wednesday, November 7th at 351 East 61st Street in Manhattan. We also have a location in Staten Island at 460 N. Brielle Avenue on the grounds of Seaview Hospital. Items that are most needed at this time include kosher food, water, toiletries, new towels, new coats, paper towels, gloves, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies. Detailed information on hands-on volunteer opportunities will be made available as soon as possible."

11/05/2012 6:53 PM EST

Architecture for Humanity

Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit that provides design and construction efforts to disaster-stricken areas, has created a six point reconstruction plan for the storm's hard hit areas in New York and New Jersey. The organization has outlined ways to get involved.

From its site:

"Right now the need is relief and recovery but very soon it will be long term reconstruction. Beyond the large scale water and wind damage we need to think about upgrading and restoring in a more sustainable and resilient manner. We want to make sure that communities are built back better and are already responding to a number of enquiries from affected areas."

11/05/2012 6:48 PM EST

Help for elderly

Schools in Park Slope are being used as shelters for the elderly.

From Park Slope Parents:

"We are collecting money for bulk buys of supplies like underwear, socks, towels, water, ice etc. For Brooklyn shelters and evacuees -- we realized when the folks at the John Jay shelter told us that they needed 600 pairs of underpants a day that a more focused effort was needed!"

11/03/2012 7:24 PM EDT

Help for New Jersey as Nor'easter looms

The owners of New Jersey's NJ Skateshop are desperately trying to collect winter clothes for neighbors without heat and members of their community who were left homeless by Hurricane Sandy, as a Nor'easter is forecast to hit the stricken area next week.

11/03/2012 7:23 PM EDT

How Marathoners Can Help

From New York Road Runners:

NYRR had already secured busses for 40,000 people to be transported to Staten Island on Sunday morning. Marathon runners are a worldwide, strong-willed & spirited community always ready to do something big. So let us do something huge. Bring us to Staten Island on Sunday morning and let us help. Let us fill up the bags passed out at the expo with layers of warm clothes we were planning on tossing to the side of the bridge at the start of the marathon and any other relief items we can donate. Let us help donate, clean, assist those in need, and still be a part of the Starting Line of something big and something to be proud of. NYRR, spend the dollars you are wasting on keeping the expo open, the dollars wasted on paying additional employees to staff, MC, and do random tasks at an Expo for a race that is not happening, and use it to help those who lost their homes and businesses. Take the manpower of the volunteers working at the Expo and bring those hours out to Staten Island to put their time where is matters more.

11/02/2012 6:25 PM EDT

Help For Rockaway

UES: Rockaway Relief accepting donations at 85th & 2nd Ave at Molly Pitcher's bar. They really need hardware supplies (Hefty bags), as well as the use of a truck. They're also collecting food, clothing, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.

11/02/2012 4:45 PM EDT

Sea Gate, Brooklyn, New York: Volunteers Needed

From UJA-Federation of New York:

Volunteers needed today to help with clean up and debris removal from Seagate, this was one of the hardest hit areas and needs the most help.

Please go to Abraham Residence at 38-11 Surf Ave or 39-15 Neptune Ave in Brooklyn to our low income housing site to help our seniors clean up their homes. This was the evacuation zone and they need a lot of man power to get back up and running. It is cold out so please dress warm and bring a flash light (there is no power). If possible please bring water to give out to the seniors.

Drivers and cars with gas are also needed. We need help running errands and getting supplies. If you can bring your car please do so and help our seniors get access to food, water and medication.

Please feel free to just show up anytime before 3pm and look for Dena. If you have questions you may call Dena at 917-592-2456. The service is spotty so please only call if absolutely necessary and leave a message.

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