How to help Australia bushfire survivors, firefighters and wildlife

In the thick of any disaster, financial assistance is always what is most in demand. Here are some organizations to consider donating to.
Image: A kangaroo is surrounded by hazy smoke in Canberra, Australia, on Jan. 5, 2020.
A kangaroo is surrounded by hazy smoke in Canberra, Australia, on Jan. 5, 2020.Lukas Coch / via Reuters
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By Nicole Spector

On Monday, Sam Sargent, founder of Blak International, a private charter flight company operating in Australia and New Zealand, helped conduct an emergency evacuation flight out of Canberra, one of several areas in Australia where a state of emergency has been declared since the deadly wildfires broke out this past fall. At least 24 people (including three volunteer firefighters) have been killed in the climate change-fueled disaster, and more than 6.3 million hectares (or 15.6 million acres) of land has burned. As of Friday, it was estimated that nearly half a billion animals have also lost their lives.

Sargent spoke to me over Skype while walking around the streets of Sydney. Flocks of birds chirped around him, sailing along an ominously pink morning sky. Sargent panned his mobile phone around to give me a quick look.

“It’s not normally like this,” he said. “Normally, this time of year, people are enjoying huge doses of sunshine here and really living for the beach. But with these strange weather patterns, it’s quite gray, and even a nice day is a hazy day, which is just not normal. Today there’s a light drizzle, but it’s like a raindrop on a bomb-fire. This is a serious, serious disaster.”

Sydney may not be in danger at the moment, but the city is far from feeling OK.

“You go buy a coffee or go to the gym, and wherever you go you’re discussing it. People want to know, how can they help?” Sargent says.

The U.S may be more than 9,000 miles away, but many Americans also want to know: How can we help Australia during this catastrophic time?

Mainly, we can help by donating money. In the thick of any disaster, financial assistance is always what is most in demand. You don’t need to be in a position of wealth to help out. Think of how much we could raise if we all donated just a few bucks to various causes? Here’s some organizations to consider and how your dollars will be used by them:

  • Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery is raising money to fund recovery programs and emergency assistance in affected communities. Donations also go toward disaster preparation, protection and volunteer training. You can donate here.
  • The Salvation Army is also delivering support to communities affected by the fires, with emergency service teams responding to loss of life and property. Make a donation here.
  • The St. Vincent de Paul Society helps people who need emergency housing, among many other services, and has launched Vinnies Bushfire Appeal to help families who have been displaced by these fires. You can donate here.
  • WIRES is an organization that is committed to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife rescue in Australia. So many animals have already perished in the fires, but there are survivors who need our help. This organization states on its site that “with the fires destroying unprecedented amounts of habitat, food shortages have increased and lack of suitable habitat will be a significant long-term challenge for surviving wildlife.” Donate to Wires here.
  • The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes on its site that just five percent of the koala population remains. This number will likely plummet once recovery of the bushfires is underway. The WWF is working to save Australian wildlife and restore land for future habitats. Donate here.
  • RSPCA NSW is also working to help animals endangered by the fires, including pets and livestock. You can donate to their bushfire appeal here.
  • Vets Beyond Borders is delivering life-saving medical care to animals affected by the Australia bushfires. You can donate here.
  • Firefighters are risking their lives to try and put out these flames — many are unpaid volunteers who greatly benefit from our support. Consider a donation to the Country Fire Authority (CFA) in Victoria and the NSW Rural Fire Service in New South Wales. You might also want to hop over on Twitter and search the hashtag, #AuthorsForFireys, where authors are auctioning off signed books, writing services and in some cases, creative input into future projects. The highest bidders must send the agreed upon fee directly to the CFA and show proof of donation.
  • Foodbank is a hunger relief charity in Australia. For every $1 donate, they can provide $6 worth of supplies to communities affected by the fires. You can donate here.
  • Save the Children is collecting donations to support affected kids by building “child friendly spaces,” where kids can play together and process these changes in a supportive environment. The idea here is to let parents focus on recovery and rebuilding without having to worry about their kids dealing with the additional trauma of loss of community. Donate to Save The Children here.
  • One Tree Planted is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Vermont. Though the fires are still raging on in Australia, the charity is already mapping out ways for long-term restoration. Matt Hill, founder of One Tree Planted tells NBC News BETTER that as little as $1 can plant a tree, and that going forward in Australia, the organization will work with local groups to establish exactly which kind of trees are needed, since different trees serve different purposes. You can donate here.

Be Wary of Scams

Unfortunately, when we open our hearts and wallets in droves, scammers will prey on our good intentions. It’s important to be mindful with your donation lest it end up in the wrong hands.

In past coverage for NBC News BETTER on how to help survivors of disasters, Michal Lai, CEO and co-founder of Sitejabber, an online reviews platform, gave the following tips for donors to protect themselves. This is especially important if you’re considering a donating to a crowdfunding campaign.

  • Read reviews of donors' experiences interacting with customer support.
  • Check that their support team is easy to get in touch with (email, chat, etc.)
  • Know what guarantees the platform offers to help fight fraud.
  • Check the fees, fine print and refund policy
  • If donating to a crowdfunding campaign, only fully trust campaigns set up for or by people you know. (Read more about how to safely donate to a campaign on GoFundMe.)

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has already received at least 47 reports of bushfire-related scams since September. The ACC has a list of pointers to avoid scams, here. If you suspect a scammer at work, report it to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, which you can do here.

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