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Search Parties, Hope Bags, and More Ways to Help the Search for Missing People

It can seem overwhelming when a child or person goes missing, but you don't have to feel helpless. There are a number of ways to help in the search, including supporting the family and loved ones of the missing.

By Caitlin Schunn

It’s a painful moment to turn on your local news and see a missing child or person on your screen, but it happens all too often in the United States. As of the end of 2022, the National Crime Information Center had 97,127 active missing persons reports in the U.S. Children made up 31 percent of those reports, according to an FBI report.

How to Watch

Watch Found on NBC and Peacock.

NBC’s new crime drama, Found, premieres Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 10/9c on NBC, and explores those who are lost, but also forgotten by law enforcement and the media. Public relations specialist Gabi Mosely, played by Shanola Hampton, is trying to change that.

And part of changing that is getting the faces of the missing out to the public faster. Many people want to know how they can help in these real-life tragedies, and there are many ways to lend a hand.  

How to Join Search Parties for Missing People

You’ve likely seen search parties for missing people in the news — combing woods and fields with flashlights, looking for any evidence that could help lead to those who have vanished. Most of the time local law enforcement will organize a search party with the help of the community, but there are also national organizations that take volunteers and add some extra boots on the ground when needed by law enforcement.

One such group is Texas EquuSearch. Despite its name, it helps look for missing persons all over the country. The group was founded by Tim Miller in 2000, in honor of his daughter, Laura, who was abducted and murdered in Texas in 1984, according to its website.

RELATED: A Sinister Kidnapper, a Tough Missing Persons Expert — Meet the Cast of New NBC Drama Found

The cast of Found

Texas EquuSearch takes members, who can participate in things such as ground searches, piloting helicopters or drones, scuba diving, and even using K-9 units to help. Besides joining search parties, its members also help with fundraising, event planning, social media management, and even graphic design.

There are thousands of private local organizations as well, depending on where you are in the U.S. The Marco Patriots, for example, helped search for a missing 56-year-old man in Cape Coral, Florida this summer. It describes itself as a volunteer-based community service group based in Marco Island, Florida, and have volunteer opportunities on its website.

How to Lend Support to a Missing Person's Family

The National Center For Missing And Exploited Children is one of the largest national organizations in the country dedicated to finding missing children. But volunteer help doesn’t just stop at search parties. The group also runs a program called Team HOPE which offers support to family members. Since it began in 1998, the program has helped more than 102,000 people with peer support.

“We know the pain, fear, frustration and loneliness that comes with being or having a missing or sexually exploited child,” the website said. “We are adult survivors who were missing or sexually abused as children. We are family members of children who were sexually exploited or missing.”

You can apply to get support, or to become a volunteer, on the organization’s website.

The National Parent Helpline is also available for parents and caregivers of missing children, and trained advocates can listen and offer emotional support, as well as help with resources. If you’d like to help or donate, you can find that information on the organization’s website.

Other Ways to Help the Search for a Missing Person

The National Center For Missing And Exploited Children partners with the FBI and Dept. of Justice to find victims of child sex trafficking, and when those victims are found, they get a Hope Bag. The bags provide survivors with basic necessities like clothes, toothbrushes, deodorant, and shampoo. The bags are distributed by FBI agents across the country, and packing up the bags is just one way you can help.

Texas EquuSearch is one of many groups that is funded by donations. According to its website, families are never charged for its search services because of donations. The site includes more information online on how to donate. EquuSearch also has an Amazon wishlist if you’d like to help donate supplies, gear, and tools for searches.

The Missing Persons Center helps pay for its investigations through crowdfunding.

“By sharing compelling stories and details about ongoing missing persons cases, we engage a broad audience passionate about aiding our efforts,” the website explains. “Through our dedicated website and social media campaigns, we hope to gain the attention of individuals or businesses who want to contribute to reuniting families and finding answers.

In addition to donating, you can also become a volunteer with the Missing Persons Center.

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