By: Laura Farley, Virginia REALTORS® General Counsel

In the wake of a natural disaster, many people find that they want to volunteer their time and skills to help the impacted community. But FEMA warns against “self-deploying” to a disaster area for several reasons. The first is that individuals who are not part of a coordinated effort can quickly find themselves in a situation where they need to be rescued themselves. Second, without being part of a coordinated effort to help the community, it’s possible that your skills and time are not being used in the most effective way. FEMA also reminds people who want to volunteer to be patient because recovery often lasts much longer than the media attention, and the need for volunteers may increase as time passes and the initial flood of help dies down.

In the spirit of Preparedness Month, this September, explore various organizations who respond to disasters in Virginia and get yourself plugged in with that organization.

Do you have specific skills like a contractor’s license? Are you handy with a hammer? Check out organizations like Gleaning for the World, Mennonite Disaster Services, or Team Rubicon.

Do you know your way around a kitchen and can’t get enough of feeding people? Or maybe you love taking care of little ones (human or furry, four legged): Check out American Red Cross, Children’s Disaster Services, Humane Society of the US, Mercy Chefs, Operation BBQ Relief, Salvation Army, or Virginia State Animal Response Team (SART).

Not sure any of those describe you, but you’ve always got a smile on your face? Organizations need lots of volunteers like you. You can find information on organizations like these and more that coordinate with the government on aid efforts at the Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD):

You can also check out the Virginia Service website and find places to volunteer within your community:

If you’re not sure that you’ll have the time to volunteer, you can always donate to charitable organizations that support disaster relief. Don’t forget that Virginia REALTORS® now has a Disaster Relief Fund to assist specifically with housing related needs during disasters. You can learn more about the Virginia REALTORS® Disaster Relief Fund, and make your tax deductible contribution, on our website, here:

So as you go through your disaster preparedness checklist, add one more item: sign up with an organization that provides services that you would like to volunteer with and get any training they require done before a disaster strikes so you’re ready to jump in when they call for your help.