Diapers are good. Piles of clothes? Not so much.
And scammers? Scammers are always bad, so as you follow your heart to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, use your head.
More than 1 million people are ultimately expected to be affected by the hurricane-turned-tropical-storm in Texas and Louisiana. In Houston, where large swaths of the city are submerged, more than 67,000 homes have been declared effectively destroyed.
As Michiganians reach out to help, experts say the most useful things they can have in their hands are checkbooks and credit cards.
“Knowing what we know, experiencing what we have,” said Bob Blumenfeld of the American Red Cross’ Michigan Region, “we can say that financial contributions go further than in-kind contributions.”
“In-kind” refers in the best way to a dozen Kroger employees preparing to rumble south on Friday with food, water, toiletries and a network of supermarkets and warehouses to handle them. In the least effective way, it means the good souls from a local church filling a truck with used clothes that will need to be sorted and stored.
“Food and clothing are well-intentioned,” said Laura Blankenship of the Better Business Bureau office in Southfield, but they’re cumbersome and often premature.
“The people in Texas might need water or paper towels or things to clean with,” she said. “They might not need clothes right now.”
They do need diapers, according to boots-on-the-ground charities like the Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio. The diaper bank is among dozens of 3- or 4-star-rated nonprofits specifically listed as providing Harvey relief by the rating service CharityNavigator.org — a roster that includes groups as varied as Habitat for Horsesand Islamic Relief USA.
Charity Navigator also recommends the Greater Houston branch of the United Way. Among the national charities that have established beachheads in Texas and are collecting donations:
■Salvation Army. helpsalvationarmy.org, 1-800-SAL-ARMY, or text STORM to 51555.
■American Red Cross, redcross.org, 1-800-RED-CROSS, or text HARVEY to 90999.
The Red Cross has drawn criticism for its response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, but remains recommended by rating agencies. Blankenship noted that if you have any doubts about the legitimacy or effectiveness of a nonprofit, it’s a good idea to check sites like Charity Navigator, GuideStar or the BBB’s own give.org.
“You want to make sure you know exactly who you’re giving to,” she said.
Crowdfunding can be problematic. Stories on sites like GoFundMe are usually compelling, but a disaster like Harvey is a breeding ground for fraud. “We suggest that you don’t give unless you know that person or you know someone who does,” Blankenship said.
Be wary of phone solicitations, she suggested; legitimately involved nonprofits would presumably be too busy to dial. Don’t give a caller your credit card numbers or personal information, but rather, ask for information to be mailed.
“Another thing is, everyone needs to remember the recovery timeline,” she said.
The urge to help is immediate, but the recovery — and the need — will likely last for years.
Among the places locally to help victims of the storm:
■Detroit Dog Rescue will collect leashes, collars, travel crates and toys from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday at Premier Pet Supply, 31215 Southfield Rd., Beverly Hills. The store will offer a 50 percent discount on donated goods.
■The 125 Kroger stores in Michigan will accept donations in cash register coin boxes from Sept. 10 through Oct. 7. The Kroger Co. Foundation has committed $100,000 to the Houston Food Bank.
■The city of Warren is collecting non-perishable food items on the second floor of City Hall or the Warren Community Center on Arden, west of Mound.
■At Arkin’s Sweet BBQ Pit, 30140 Southfield Rd., Southfield, the entire $6.89 price — including tax — of every pulled pork or pulled chicken sandwich sold from Sept. 1-10 will be donated to hurricane relief.