In doing so, GiveDirectly and its donors wanted to address that extraordinary need. They also wanted to do so more efficiently and effectively than other charities, churches, and aid groups. To be sure, the residents of Rose City needed water, clothing, groceries, and cleaning supplies—as do the residents of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Santa Rosa, and elsewhere. But handing out cash would help them get exactly what they needed, and without lots of hassle or cost, GiveDirectly argued. “You talk to each individual, and their needs are individual,” Michael Faye, the nonprofit’s cofounder, told me. “It’s not a place where debit cards aren’t working and the stores are still closed. It’s a place where things are destroyed and people need money to rebuild their lives.”

The group is one of many pushing cash, not stuff, as the best way to help communities afflicted by natural disasters—or just plain poverty. In the Houston area, the Red Cross is providing $400 cash grants, along with its other goods and services. In Puerto Rico, local NGOs are asking mainland Americans to remit money, not just to ship over stuff. The United States Agency for International Development now recommends that Americans stop giving goods and start giving money to disaster areas, whether here in the United States or abroad. “How can you make the greatest impact in the lives of others this hurricane season?” its advisory for post-hurricane giving says. “The answer is surprisingly simple: Give cash to relief organizations that work directly with people affected by disasters.”