North Central Florida responds to crisis in Bahamas

Aerial footage shows the damage left behind in Hurricane Dorian's wake across Abaco Island in the Bahamas on Sept. 3, 2019. (Photo by the HeadKnowles Foundation via Getty Images)

The Bahamas was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian after it made landfall there as a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and 220 mph wind gusts. At least 20 people were killed and thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged. 

Relief efforts from multiple agencies, organizations, and companies are underway to assist the victims of the disaster.  

The Gainesville Sun has published a list of local businesses and organizations that are offering opportunities to help.  Some of those include: University of Florida Chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity; Scuba Monkey Dive Center/Blue Lagoon Aquatic Center; Maple Street Biscuit Company; Fr Body & Facial Beautification Services; and Burn Boot Camp.  Read more about where to donate in Gainesville on the Gainesville Sun website.

The Ocala StarBanner has also published a list of local businesses and organizations that are offering opportunities to help.  Some of those include: Crossroads Alliance & Ministries; Ocala First United Methodist Church; and the Knights of Columbus. Read more about where to donate in Ocala on the Ocala StarBanner website.

Additionally, the Boys and Girls Club Northwest Unit, at 2661 NW 51st St., Gainesville, Fl 32607, is accepting donations or volunteers. You can call the club or email the Unit Director, Valerie White at Valeriew@myboysandgirlsclub.com, to find out how you can donate or become involved or visit their website.

The Humane Society of North Central Florida (HSNCF) is monitoring and ready to assist impacted Bahamian animal shelters and communities.  As a statewide collaborative and coordinated effort of the Florida Association of Animal Welfare Organizations (FAAWO.org), Florida shelters and rescues are currently waiting for an assessment to be completed by the Bahamian authorities that will identify specific needs. HSNCF will be sharing updates on its Facebook page. To make room at the Humane Society, individuals and families are encouraged to consider adopting a dog, cat, puppy or kitten currently in its shelter.  Now through Sunday, the Humane Society is waiving adoption fees on all animals currently in need of new loving homes. At this time, if you would like to donate to relief efforts, we recommend monetary donations to one of the following Bahamian organization: Grand Bahama Humane Society or BAARK (Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness).

A number of Bahamian students attend the University of Florida at Gainesville. If you are interested in helping UF students and employees with unforeseen financial hardships, you may donate to the Aid-a-Gator program.

A basic relief kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Food -- non-perishable food canned or prepackaged pouches, protein bars, trail mix
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight and bBatteries (AAA, AA, C, D only)
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air 
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Toothpaste and brushes
  • Toilet paper
  • Deodorant
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • First aid, bandages, antibiotic ointment
  • Medication such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Glasses and contact lense solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Work gloves
  • Tarps
  • Soap

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a consumer alert on Thursday warning Floridians about potential charity scams exploiting Bahamian-recovery efforts. Moody's office also included a list of tips for those who wish to donate to assist recovery efforts:

  • Never give credit card numbers, gift card account numbers or bank account information to a caller on the phone or in response to an unsolicited email.
  • Before donating over the phone or online, take steps to verify the charity or fundraising campaign.
  • Avoid solicitors that use high-pressure tactics.
  • Watch for charities with similar-sounding names. It is not unusual for scammers to choose names that sound like the names of legitimate, widely-known charities;
  • Look up charity on CharityNavigator.org before giving.
  • Research and review the organization carefully to understand how much of the donation will actually go towards the work of the charity as opposed to administrative expenses and overhead.
  • Check with the Internal Revenue Service to see if the tax-exempt organization filed an annual return or notice with the IRS. The IRS requires automatic revocation of a charity’s tax-exempt status if it fails to return for three consecutive years. Publication of an organization’s name on the Auto-Revocation List helps potential donors determine the status of a charity. To learn more, go to IRS.gov and search the Charities and Non-Profits topics.

Moody also wants donors to:

  • Research the webpage creator’s background and reviews before donating.
  • Know that there are many different crowd sourcing platforms, each with different terms of use and fraud investigation practices.
  • Check to see if the platform offers protections to donors should a campaign be fraudulent.
  • Determine what percentage of any funds raised will go to the charity and what percentage goes to the platform.
  • Search to see if there are any identical or extremely similar campaigns.

The United States Agency for International Development’s Center for International Disaster Information created a website concerning Hurricane Dorian. It has resources and information regarding charities providing aid to the Bahamas.

Those with concerns about a fraudelent charity or crowdsourcing charity can report those concerns to the Attorney General's Office online at MyFloridaLegal.com or by calling 866-9NO-SCAM.