Grassroots, online donations blossom after Florence

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— In the wake of Hurricane Florence, there are a hundred ways to help.

As with so many things these days, many of them grow online. A search for “Hurricane Florence” on GoFundMe, an online donation platform that just about anyone can use to ask for money, turned up 2,700 results Friday.

People posted pictures of their flooded homes, or of homes belonging to friends or family.

“Ethelyn and Joe would never ask for a penny but are the first ones to your door if you are in need of anything,” one pitch reads. “Now they are in need of help.”

Some hoped to help from afar.

“I grew up in Carteret County,” one person posted from Washington, D.C. “I may no longer live there, but it is still home. … I am heading home to Morehead City / New Bern, North Carolina on Saturday to take these much needed supplies.”

There are dozens of people and groups seeking donations to cover animal rescue costs.

“We are already seeing casualties of animals abandoned, tied up, and left for dead,” a woman from Florida wrote, promising to be on her way soon to North Carolina. “They need our help. Please share and donate if you can.”

Some asked for a few thousand dollars. Some for $10,000 or $20,000 to fill in the gaps insurance will leave on home repairs. Many have met their campaign goals. A GoFundMe spokesman said Florence-related campaigns had raised more than $1.5 million as of Thursday night.

“We’ve seen, really, an outpouring of support,” spokesman Bart Jackson said.

The company also set up its own official giving conduit to help Hurricane victims, but that has not proved as popular as grassroots efforts on the website. Nine days in, it had raised $3,784 of its $200,000 goal.

Scams are a concern when giving to strangers online. Jackson said the site monitors campaigns around the clock and verifies the identities of organizers and beneficiaries.

“There has been no misuse on the platform related to this event,” he said.

The site also promises to return donations if a campaign turns out to be fraudulent. Even so, the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina says people should “be wary” of online giving campaigns.

“They really try their best to make sure those things are not fraudulent, but some times those things do get through,” spokeswoman Kayla Gilbert said.

Be especially wary of emailed pleas for help. Before giving to formal charities, you can check or Charity Navigator for information about the group’s track record. WRAL News has also compiled a list of established giving options.

Suspected scams can be reported to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, which regulates charities, at 888-830-4989 or online.

If you think you’ve gotten a call form a fake charity, write down every detail you can immediately, or take screen shots of emails and text messages, Secretary of State spokeswoman Liz Proctor said.

Watch out for promises that 100 percent of donations will go to help people, Gilbert said. Charities have fundraising and operations costs, and 80 or 90 percent in direct aid is more realistic, she said.

If someone calls asking for a donation and you want to give, ask how much goes to the charity. Some groups use professional fundraisers to drum up donations, and most of the money may go to that effort.

You can also hang up, then look the group up online, sending them a direct donation instead of through the telephone.

Also ask, Gilbert suggested, whether charities are helping people directly or serving as a middle man and sending funds to other groups.

Grassroots efforts also organize quickly via social media. The Facebook feed for state Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, from the last few days is just a string of places people can go for help in and around Robeson County or can go to give it.

Britt put out a call for volunteers to fill sand bags in Lumberton as the storm bore down on the area and said nearly 100 people showed up. On Friday, he asked for donations of baby formula, diapers, personal hygiene items and non-perishable food.

Just bring them to 2300 N. Cedar St. in Lumberton, or 211 Canal St. in Whiteville, Britt said. So many roads are closed that Britt said people can call him and he’ll guide them in: (910) 785-3788.

One county over, state Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, said he secured a 40,000-square-foot warehouse before the storm to hold supplies in the aftermath. His wife, Angela, is organizing things: (910) 640-8363.