Don't be overwhelmed: You can help the Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee children covered with dust arrive Sept. 10 at the Jordanian border with Syria and Iraq, near the town of Ruwaished, which is close to Amman, Jordan. (CNS photo / Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

One of the most frustrating parts of disasters is not knowing how to help. The scale is sometimes so overwhelming, the need so great, the photos so staggering, that you wish you could somehow drop everything and go there and just do something.

But you can’t.

Even worse, when the disaster is large enough, it can feel like writing a check in the face of something so awful is meaningless, and so you do nothing. Or you begin the process of writing a check, but are overwhelmed with the choices of where to send it, and worry that you may not be sending it to where it can be most effective.

But I’ve covered and worked with non-profits long enough to know this with absolute certainty: Your donation, no mater how small, really does matter. Those small donations add up and they really do go to where the need is and do something, even when you cannot.

Before we get into ways to help with the current refugee crisis in Europe, here’s a few more things I’ve learned over the years:

• Don’t worry that your donation may not go to the specific disaster that spurred you to give. There are needs all over the world, and the organization knows where those needs are and where your dollars are best spent. Your donation still matters immensely.

• Don’t worry about picking the absolutely perfect organization to give to. There are lots of groups doing lots of things, and they all need — and are grateful — for your help. If you pick by whose website is easiest to navigate or who has the best photos, that’s OK. We won’t tell.

• If you can, do some research on the organization to make sure they are effective. This is an absolute must if you haven’t heard of them before or they’ve recently been created to respond to the latest crisis. Better yet, stick to established, reputable organizations that have a track record. You can also use groups that are in the business of rating charities on their accountability, like Charity Navigator, which often creates a portal just to help find highly-rated groups responding to the latest crisis. Their portal for the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe not only shows ratings for 18 different groups, but links to their pages for when you choose one.

• Give money, not things. Unless an organization is specifically asking for donations of things such as bottled water or toiletries, stick to financial or volunteer help.

• Finally, don’t be afraid to zag when everyone else zigs. If you fear that the “Crisis of the Week” may be drawing donations away from other problems, give there instead. Again, there is so much need in the world, your donations matter wherever they go.

Here are some other ways to help make a difference:

Catholic Relief Services: An obvious choice for readers of a publication dedicated to covering Catholic women religious, perhaps, but also a good choice. It was established to bring humanitarian relief to war-torn Europe after World War II, so responding to this crisis of Syrian migration is a natural for them.

Caritas: This group, which often partners with Catholic Relief Services, has already been serving refugees in Macedonia and Serbia, the Greek islands and Calais for months and years, as well as those in northern Iraq and Kurdistan.

• Jesuit Refugee Service: If you want to be even more congregation-specific, you can go with the Jesuits, who have been serving and advocating for those fleeing Syria and ISIS since the beginning.

• There is also Samaritan’s Purse and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

ABC News compiled a list of agencies you can help, from Doctors Without Borders to the International Rescue Committee.

The Independent compiled a list of ways to help, with most of them aimed at Calais, France, where some 4,000 refugees are living in squalid conditions near the Eurotunnel that connects France to England. These are mostly smaller, more direct efforts, such as charities driving to Calais with supplies, and an Amazon Wish List that allows you to buy items specifically needed for the effort.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]