How can people get involved during crises to help address the most dire needs? We spoke with television personality, entrepreneur, and author Bethenny Frankel about her mission to provide disaster relief.
As an entrepreneur and a New York Times best-selling author, how did you find yourself focusing on disaster relief?
I always wanted to work in philanthropy and help people in dire need with an immediate call to action. Disaster response is literally life or death. I am good in a crisis and have the ability to be a connector, very decisive and organized. I also know how to disseminate information and execute a plan. Relief involves so many moving parts and logistics, and every single mission is different. I just took action one day and never stopped.
How did the BStrong program start?
I was inspired by the footage of Hurricane Harvey and realized that that was an actual crisis. I raised a few hundred thousand in money and relief items in a matter of days. Everyone told me not to go there. I thought to myself, if no one goes, how does anyone get help?
What is the initiative currently focusing on?
We are currently focused on amassing relief in our warehouse to be transported to and distributed throughout the Bahamas. We are also working on pet rescue and funding search and rescue missions via ex-Navy SEAL teams. In a later phase, we will distribute cash cards to rebuild.
What does being a first responder look like?
Different groups come together, and we decide who to align with and support. Our ground partners for Puerto Rico are different from those for the Bahamas. We are working with Blue Tide Marine and Fly Tropic to aid in search and rescue missions. Bstrong is funding their operation. We are in motion way earlier than we were for Maria and we were on the ground very early there. Our response time is now almost immediate.
What is the reality of the situations of people providing aid — what mindset do they need to be in?
There is an adrenaline that comes over people that I’ve never seen in traditional business. It is contagious and people have the ability to accomplish unimaginable things on no sleep. Volunteers are passionate and simply need to feel necessary in a way they may not in their everyday lives.
You have to be organized, collected, communicative, and direct. Most importantly, you can only work with people you can trust and who are credible, and you have to have unilateral control over your funds.
Relief is a breeding ground for corruption because the game is moving too quickly.
This is where I excel. I keep it tight and right, and I need know exactly where all money donated goes and provide donors the right information so they feel empowered. There are no salaries, no administrative costs, and 100 percent of my funds go directly to the mission. I pay all of my own expenses.
In your experience, what is the reality of the situations of those people that are in a crisis?
They have absolutely nothing. It is ground zero. Imagine you have only the clothes on your back and the baby in your arms.
They need to get out of there and to safety. They need first aid, diapers, formula, clean water, possibly medical attention, wipes, food, and literally the basics.
What precautions do you believe need to be taken by people who are in disaster-prone areas?
You can’t really plan for 200 miles per hour winds and the worst storm in decades.
What advice do you have, or what actions would you recommend, for people that want to be first responders in relief efforts?
Align yourself with a reputable organization and make connections. It’s a tight community and people cluster together. There are hundreds of chat rooms dedicated to different areas of the relief efforts: medical, transportation, logistics, warehouse, search and rescue, etc.
This is how we all receive and disseminate information, so everyone knows who to talk to and how to help.
For those who don’t have the capacity to be a first responder but still want to provide aid, what can be done?
Collecting substantial donations and bringing it to our warehouse is helpful. We amass the country’s relief and get it to those in need.
Beyond donating, how can individuals support those affected by disasters?
Information is power. We are moving so fast and I learn most of my information from people: people talking about pets and people in need, people giving me information and connecting each other.
I have never used my social media more effectively than when there is a crisis. It becomes a switchboard chat room. People cannot underestimate the impact of their engagement and information and spreading the word on their socials for people to donate for this effort.
How does being part of a team translate to people struck by natural disasters?
Disaster victims are very scared and alone. When they see us coming to help, they feel loved and safe. That is literally the most basic need we have – for our hearts to be full and not feel alone in this world.