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BOISE A massive international aid effort is starting to take shape in the Philippines, but not quickly enough for the 600-thousand people who've been displaced.

WIDESPREAD DEVASTATION

Typhoon Haiyan all but completely destroyed several areas of the Philippines, with the island city of Tacloban hit the hardest.

The official death toll is now more than 2,300 and is expected to grow.

Many of the survivors are left homeless, hungry and thirsty. Authorities say they re having a hard time meeting those needs.

U-S Marines are now helping Filipino authorities with the relief effort.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

Locally, many people are paying close attention to what's going on half a world away.

A Nampa man recently returned from an LDS mission in Tacloban. For most of us the images of the devastation are difficult to see, but for him, they re heartbreaking.

Since the typhoon hit the Philippines, Austin Nelson, who returned from there a few months ago, has spent a lot of time watching the news and looking at pictures on the internet.

I've seen all those places. I've walked those streets, I've seen that city. I've seen those buildings, said Nelson.

Nelson spent two years in Tacloban serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I don't know who's alive, Nelson said. I don't know who's okay. I don't know who's injured, mainly because lines of communication are down. I have a lot of friends on Facebook from there, but I haven't been able to contact them.

That lack of contact is something Nate and Dawn Benjamin from Meridian know all too well. Their son is serving an LDS mission in Cebu which is just south of Tacloban.

They finally heard from their son, Chay, on Wednesday morning, six days after the typhoon hit.

We don't have a lot of details, said Nate Benjamin. His email was short because of the power. He had just about 5-10 minutes so we don t know a lot, but we have the same concerns. I think that they are struggling finding fresh water sources.

In addition to finding fresh water, they have no power and no refrigeration.

Despite being in the country to do missionary work, this natural disaster has changed his focus.

At this point now it's been completely changed to service. Hands on, cleaning up the mess, said Nate Benjamin.

The city where Chay is wasn't hit as hard as where Nelson was, so the death toll isn't as great. But it's still bad as he and others work to clean up.

It's crazy there, and it's hard and things are rough, but he loves it, said Dawn Benjamin.

LOOKING TO DONATE?

Seeing the images of cities in the Philippines can easily tug on your heart strings. Many people, after looking at the pictures and watching the stories, want to reach out; they want to open their wallets and help.

Many organizations sent advance teams in just to assess the damage and see how they can help.

But with so many organizations wanting to help, how do you know who to give to?

But before you give, Robb Hicken with the Better Business Bureau, says it's important for you to do your research before you give.

You can expect dozens of agencies, if not more, to jump in and help. Most are legitimate, others could be a scam, taking advantage of people's good will.

We want people to give, we're a charitable country, said Hicken. But give wisely and give to an organization that you trust, that you've actually looked into, checked the background on and you trust.

If you have an agency that you normally donate to, contact them and see if they are doing anything to help. If you don't have that agency, look around, talk to your friends or look online.

Make sure you contact the agency. Don't just donate to the organization with the flashiest website.

Also, be aware of organizations claiming that 100 percent of your donation will go to the cause, because those organizations are few and far between.

Hicken says if an agency uses anything over 40 percent of its money for administrative costs, that's too high.

Below is a list of 25 organizations that are BBB Accredited Charities that are accepting donations for typhoon relief activities.

  • Adventist Development and Relief Agency International
  • AmeriCares Foundation
  • American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
  • American Red Cross
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • ChildFund International
  • Children International
  • Direct Relief International
  • Episcopal Relief and Development
  • Feed The Children
  • GlobalGIving Foundation
  • Habitat for Humanity International
  • Heifer International
  • International Medical Corps
  • Lutheran World Relief
  • MAP International
  • Mercy Corps
  • Operation USA
  • Oxfam America
  • Plan International USA
  • Save the Children Federation
  • The Salvation Army
  • United States Fund for UNICEF
  • World Food Program USA
  • World Vision
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