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I can't speak for the Red Cross, but donations made after a disaster are used to provide relief. It's true that if you give $100 now, it's impossible to instantly turn that into food for those in need, but it will let non-profits purchase and ship more relief supplies.

Initial disaster relief by necessity has to address short-term needs. Food, shelter, medicine, sanitation. Once basic needs are met, some organizations declare victory and leave. Others - typically those based in the community in the first place - continue to work on long-term recovery efforts, ranging from education, microloans, economic development, job training, etc. It really depends on the organization and the needs of the community.

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