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Matching donations with need after natural disasters

Matt Johnson salvages items from his grandparent's home after a powerful tornado ripped through the neighborhood on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma.

On Monday, a tornado with wind speeds above 200 miles per hour destroyed whole blocks in suburbs outside of the state’s capital, Oklahoma City. Officials say at least 24 people are dead. 

A massive recovery and relief effort including volunteers and donors from outside the Sooner State, began almost immediately.

Hours after the tornado touched down, Will Cleaver was on the road, driving a trailer full of supplies from Kansas City to Oklahoma. He is a cofounder of a group called Operation BBQ Relief, a nonprofit that prepares food after disasters like this one, including the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo.

“With the number of teams and volunteers we had show up, we were able to do 110,000 meals down there,” he says.

Operation BBQ Relief is one of many smaller volunteer organizations helping out in Moore, Okla. Bigger organizations are there too, including the American Red Cross.

People from all over want to help -- they’re willing to send money and donate their time. But after a disaster, there tends to be confusion about what is needed.

Caitra O’Neill runs Recovers.org, a company that to simplify that.

“We are able to create more efficiency in response by pushing people to what the greatest needs are before the community even knows what those needs are,” she says, adding it is important to learn from previous disasters and to involve locals.

A common misconceptions, she says, is that survivors need clothes. But for someone who has lost his home, that’s not at the top of the list.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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