Superstorm Sandy: How you can help

From basic needs like food and shelter to helping schools recover, here are five helpful, proven ways you can pitch in now to help repair the damage after the storm.

By Carol Lloyd

Superstorm Sandy’s devastation has created a massive maw of need in many communities along the East Coast. If you are watching it all from a distance, it's difficult to know the best ways to help. The bottom line: no matter where you are or how much time or money you have, you can lend your support to families in need.

Urgent giving: you can support the most immediate needs by donating money or goods to national organizations.

Give $$$ for families in need

If you want to support efforts to meet the direst needs, Red Cross is asking for financial donations right now. They emphasize that it’s the most practical way to help people facing tough conditions as a result of the storm. If you want to offer material donations of food or clothing, they recommend that you contact shelters or local soup kitchens directly.

Play Santa with an Amazon wish list

If you want to help with material donations but are too far away to drop by with a pile of blankets or a box of food, try the Amazon wish list for Hurricane Sandy relief supplies created by Assemblyman Matthew Titone. He represents Staten Island, one of the areas hardest hit. Whether you’re giving children’s socks, dust masks, diapers, or any number of essentials, your donations will be shipped to one of the centers distributing goods and services.

Helping students and schools recover

In the wake of the storm, dozens of schools have emerged as a nexus of need and support, revealing just how crucial these institutions are, not just for our children but our communities at large.

Many schools became shelters for displaced families whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. Other schools have been temporarily shuttered. New York Department of Education reported that some 57 schools may not reopen for the rest of the year — a fact that will force thousands of children to switch schools midyear. Still others have reopened their doors this week, filling with schoolchildren returning to a “normal” routine while hearts and home lives are far from recovering.

As Launa Schweizer, a middle school teacher at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, observed in the New York Times after returning to a classroom of discombobulated, traumatized students:

“…[T]hose children didn’t need my lessons. Not right away. Instead, they needed school as a refuge. Refuge from dark stairways and flashlights. Refuge from schlepping wet cardboard boxes out of basements. Refuge from a week of cold dinners and no showers. Our school was dry, warm, well-lighted and normal, and they needed simply to be there.”

After the most urgent needs have been met, schools will be doing double-duty to help children recover and refocus for a long time to come. Not only have thousands of kids missed out on crucial days of school, many will be grappling with the distractions of difficult living situations. To help every child get back in the learning groove, you can help in the following ways:

Donate to the classrooms DonorsChoose, a website that allows teachers to fundraise for specific projects for their classrooms, has created a Hurricane Sandy page that compiles all of the DonorChoose projects at schools affected by the storm. Many of the projects predate the storm (such as ones requesting Kindles for their classrooms or a new piano for a chorus), but many are up-to-the-minute requests from teachers who are attempting to teach kids in classrooms that need essentials like water, food, and garbage bags for cleaning up the flooded school.

Give the gift of reading First Book is helping restock school and home libraries with donations of new books for children and schools affected by Sandy. After Hurricane Katrina, the organization gave away five million books to children. Now they’ve got a deal that for every $2.50 donated, they'll give a new book to a child affected by the storm and that donation will be matched by one of the organization’s publishing partners.

Can’t afford to give, but want to lend your voice? Sign a petition for school supplies or to keep a school community together. A new Change.org petition started by a New Jersey teacher is asking both Obama and Romney's campaigns to donate their supplies to affected schools. Now that the votes have been counted, the remaining boxes of paper, pens, and markers could find a good home. Another petition implores  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help keep children from the Rockaway community together instead of being separated to as many as seven different schools.

Know of another way to help the families hit by Sandy from afar? Post it to our Facebook page or email me at clloyd@greatschools.org and I’ll update this list.

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.