Since Dr. Robert Greer V returned to West Palm Beach from an intense 45 hours relieving exhausted medical professionals in Hope Town in the Hurricane Dorian-raved Abaco Islands, he says he hears the same question: “’How can I help?’”


That’s something people in South Florida and beyond have pondered since Dorian devastated portions of the northern islands of the Bahamas. And the answer that Greer and others well-versed in natural disasters generally have is: Money and skilled volunteers are, unless specifically requested, more useful than that pallet of bottled water.


"A lot of people get overzealous and want to help," says Greer, an osteopathic physician in West Palm Beach, who also spent time in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. "I would probably tell people to do their due diligence and either donate time or money."


Many legitimate organizations have called for the donation of specific goods, from medical supplies to water to shoes and clothes. But some now say that financial donations are urgently needed, including UNICEF USA, which seeks to raise $4 million to address the most immediate needs, including access to safe drinking water and sanitation, nutrition and other support.


"I have been in Palm Beach County for almost seven years, and the local reaction to Hurricanes Harvey, Matthew and Irma in our community has been so generous," says Kate Magro, Palm Beach Atlantic University’s assistant dean of students and field supervisor for the university’ s Master’s in Global Development Program. "They’re so generous to jump into action, but you have to be careful. The wrong kind of help at the wrong time is not helping."


Magro and Greer offer the following suggestions:


Make sure your non-cash donations are actually helpful: Magro shows students a video about disaster response that “actually refers to a wave of donations that come through that people call ’The second disaster.’ Goods that aren’t needed clog the system. During the earthquake you had people sending sweaters to Haiti. They don’t need them, Help needs to be the right kind of help.”


Greer, a delegate for the American Osteopathic Association’s Bureau of Emerging Leaders, says that he received a massive donation of insulin on dry ice to be sent to the Bahamas, but had to explain that "it would have been great, had we been able to refrigerate it. It goes bad if it’s not refrigerated. The best thing to do is to contact local organizations and find out what they need. They’re the best people to ask."


On its website, UNICEF explains that it does not accept non-cash donations because "monetary donations are the fastest and most efficient way to provide assistance. Donated goods must be screened, sorted, stored and transported."


Cash donations to reputable organizations like the locally based Eagles’ Wings Foundation and the Green Turtle Cay Foundation are also preferable to goods, Magro says, because " in a disaster zone, the needs change so rapidly. One day, they need gas for planes, and the next day it’s money for water filtration systems. The infrastructure in some places has been decimated. Cash is flexible and can do all of those things."


If you do send goods, make sure they’re exactly what’s needed: Magro says that because needs, and the ability to receive goods, changes so quickly, it’s better to be specific about what the organization you intend to donate to wants. For instance, Bahamas Cruise Relief is currently looking for things like heavy equipment amd generators to transport from the Port of Palm Beach.


What isn’t needed, Magro says, are things like clothes.


Be willing to donate your time: Magro and Greer say that there is, and will be for some time, a need for skilled professionals to assist the affected islands. For instance, Greer believes that mental and behavioral specialists will be in particular need. “Know where your skill set is,” Magro says. “I know, for instance, that I am really great at logistics, but I am not a great big muscle-ly person. I’m not a first responder, and I don’t have a cadaver dog, so I’m not going to the Bahamas right now. They don’t need me. It’s going to take different talents at different times.”


If you do volunteer, be prepared for some very hard days: “In the long term, and this is very graphic and very sad, but the top priority is caring for and evacuating survivors and going through and unfortunately finding the people who have died,” Magro says. “People think we need to go in and rebuild homes, but first we have to take care of the living people and also those who have, sadly, passed away.”


Be willing to be available for the long haul: “In the news cycle, people will pay attention for about three weeks,” says Magro, whose school is already requesting that volunteers sign up and identify their skills “so when they need you, they can call up those people. We look for people we call ’cheerful muscle,’ who can do physical things. This will be a multi-year recovery.”


Help with your vacation dollars: While the northern islands were greatly damaged, areas in the south of the Bahamas, like Nassau, remain open. Ellison Thompson, the deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, told the Orlando Sentinel that the country, which counts on tourism for about 60 percent of its economy, is encouraging visitors, something Dr. Greer agrees with. “100 percent.”


"What the people are saying is that ’We’ll rebuild, we’ll be OK and the emergency stuff is getting better, but it’s better to see you back here,’" he says. "Tourism is how they sustain their livelihood."