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How to Help After a Tornado

Those wanting to help following a tornado have several options. They can donate to disaster relief organizations in their area, volunteer with the relief effort, or help individual friends or family members by offering financial, practical, and emotional support.



Tornadoes  are devastating storms that can have long-lasting consequences. While tornadoes can happen almost anywhere in the world, they are most common in the central U.S., where they tend to peak during the early summer months.

Those wanting to help following a tornado have several options. They can donate to disaster relief organizations in their area, volunteer with the relief effort, or help individual friends or family members by offering financial, practical, and emotional support.

Working with Disaster Relief Organizations

1. Focus on working with local organizations to help most directly. One of the most effective ways to help tornado victims is to donate to local disaster relief organizations. Local organizations are familiar with the community and what resources are already available locally. They are also motivated to help their local community by making sure that any resources donated to them are put to good use.

2. Check with other types of organizations in the area that may be helping.  In the wake of a disaster like a tornado, many different kinds of local organizations will often step up to help. Check with non-disaster relief organizations in the area, such as schools, libraries, homeless shelters, animal shelters, food banks, churches, and social service organizations to find out what they are doing and how you can get involved.

  • For example, in the wake of the recent Lee County tornado in Alabama, churches, grocery stores, schools, and animal shelters in the area gathered donations of supplies and money for the community.
  • Check the websites of local news outlets to find out where you can donate.

3. Research charities before you work with them. Before you donate to any charitable or relief organization, look them up through a watchdog organization to find out if they are reputable. Do a search for the organization you’re interested in online and look for reviews and ratings from groups such as:

    • CharityNavigator
    • CharityWatch
    • GuideStar
    • The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance

4. Look for national disaster relief networks that offer local aid. Many national disaster relief organizations have local branches that can provide direct help on the community level. Research reputable national disaster relief networks and see if there are any local branches in the affected area.

5. Give money if you can. In the wake of a disaster, people need a wide variety of different types of assistance. They may need goods, shelter, medical care, or food. When you donate money to disaster relief organizations or charities, they can figure out how to use your contribution in the most effective and efficient way possible. If possible, donate money rather than goods unless an organization is specifically asking for material donations.

    • Monetary donations allow rescue organizations to purchase goods locally without having to worry about shipping costs and quality control checks. They can also tailor their purchases to the exact needs of members of the community.
    • For example, after the tornado that recently hit El Reno, Oklahoma, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) branch is looking for donations of cash and gift cards to help residents purchase food, gas, and other necessities.

6. Donate items only if they are needed. Donating goods, such as clothing and canned foods, can also be helpful in the wake of a tornado. However, first check with the organization(s) you’re working with to find out exactly what is needed. Otherwise, aid organizations can end up overwhelmed with material donations that they are unable to use.

    • Call the organization you’d like to donate to or check their website to find out what kinds of donations they are taking.

7. Ask about ways to volunteer. As an alternative to donating money or goods, you may also be able to volunteer your time. Contact rescue organizations in the affected area and find out what kinds of help they need. You can also reach out to National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster at  to find volunteer opportunities.

    • Don’t jump in and try to help with search and rescue efforts or other potentially dangerous activities on your own. It’s important to work with an existing volunteer organization that has already identified safe and effective ways to help out.
    • Ways to volunteer may include making calls for donations, cooking meals for survivors, delivering supplies, or getting involved in search and rescue operations.

Supporting Individual Tornado Victims

1. Try to contact friends and family affected by the tornado. If you know someone who’s been affected by a tornado, try to get in touch with them as soon as possible to find out if they are okay and what they need. You may be able to contact them by phone or over their social media accounts, but if not, there are a variety of resources that can help:

2. Give financial support if you can. In addition to dealing with the immediate trauma and damage caused by the tornado, many victims find themselves in severe financial difficulty long after the disaster is over. If you want to help someone affected by a tornado, consider helping them out with a little money if you are able to do so.

    • If you can’t give much money yourself, look into starting a crowdfunding campaign to help your loved one meet their needs.
    • You can also help connect them with disaster-related financial assistance resources, like the U.S. government’s disaster relief program at DisasterAssistance.gov.

3. Offer shelter if you’re able to. Tornadoes can cause devastating damage to people’s property, destroying homes, leaving large areas flooded or without power or water, or creating hazards such as downed powerlines and structural instability.  If you know someone who’s been left homeless after a tornado or needs a place to stay while repairs are being done, consider taking them in for a while.

    • If you can’t provide shelter yourself, you may be able to help connect survivors with temporary shelter options in their area. For example, in the U.S., you can text SHELTER and the person’s zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find nearby options.
    • You can also help connect them with disaster-related financial assistance resources, like the U.S. government’s disaster relief program at DisasterAssistance.gov.

4. Help them replace lost items. After a tornado, your friends or loved ones may be faced with the task of replacing some or all of their furniture and appliances. Ask them which items they need and whether you can help by purchasing some of those items for them.

    • Work with them to create an online wish list so that you and other friends or relatives can purchase the specific items they need based on the list.

5. Be emotionally supportive. The emotional aftermath of a tornado or other natural disaster can be devastating. In addition to needing practical help, many tornado victims will need emotional support to help them cope with the stress of what they’ve been through. Reach out to loved ones affected by the tornado and let them know you are there if they need to talk.

    • Common signs of disaster-related distress include feelings of anxiety, fear, disbelief, or emotional numbness, difficulty concentrating, changes in energy or activity levels, and difficulty sleeping. Some people also have physical symptoms such as headaches, body pains, and indigestion.
    • If someone you know is experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis after a tornado, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
    • Natural disasters like tornadoes can be especially traumatic for children. If you know a child who’s been through a tornado, you can help them by encouraging them to talk about how they’re feeling and letting them know that their feelings are normal and valid. Getting them involved with helping family members or their community can also help them feel more positive and in control.

Editor’s note: This article was authored in partnership with wikiHow, the world’s largest “how to” site, and also featured here on the wikiHow website.

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