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HELPING OKLAHOMA: How To Assist Tornado Victims

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Susan Ryon is the first American Red Cross volunteer from central Iowa asked to assist victims in Moore, Oklahoma.

However, this isn't her first trip to an area hit hard by a natural disaster.

"This is a pin from Katrina, and I have one from Hurricane Irene,” said Ryon.

Over the next eleven days, Ryon will help victims apply for federal aid, work to replace records like birth certificates and drivers licenses, and reach out to insurance providers so victims don't have to.

"You feel like you really make a difference in their lives by helping them a little bit to meet their emergency needs,” Ryon told Channel 13 News.

Ryon has twenty years of disaster training, but many who call the American Red Cross asking how they can help do not.

"Those in the community that want to help, what we encourage them to do is take training now,” said Dan Cataldi, State Response Officer for the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross offers emergency preparedness classes throughout the year and anyone can take them.

If your heart is set on helping victims in Oklahoma now, here's how the organizations says you can really make a difference.

"Cash is really the only donation we'll accept at the American Red Cross,” said Cataldi.

Donating items like clothing and food is discouraged because of shipping and labor costs.

Self-deploying is also not recommended.

"A lot of people like to get in their car and drive to see how they can help. What they can actually do is get in the way,” Cataldi told Channel 13 News.

In other words, leave the "hands on" assistance to the professionals.

You can donate money by visiting the American Red Cross website or by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is reminding Iowans to be cautious about whom they donate to, all too often when disasters hit, criminals try to take advantage of Iowan’s generosity.

Officials suggest sticking to large well known charities and being cautious about "sound-alike" groups trying to take your money.

Only donate on secure websites that have the letter "s" in the website address prefix, it should say https://.