As a Disaster Response/Recovery Chaplain (F5 Tornado in Joplin, Hurricane Katrina, as well as local support), I offer my experience to you as you are considering what and where to donate. When disaster strikes, every little bit does help, I just want to make sure that you/we make the most of our contributions, so please consider these tips:
Please don’t send items to where the disaster is happening. Always CHECK FIRST with organizations on the ground. And even if you see a list of places, such as this list in the NYTimes article, ALWAYS check in. People see a list like this one in the article, as well as those circulating through social media outlets, and send goods without making contact with the organization FIRST. Well-meaning, loving people send stuff, and unfortunately it oftentimes is a waste, creating more headaches and problems for those on the ground.
Sadly, you would not believe what we had to contend with in Joplin in 2011, after an F5 tornado devastated the city. With most of the city blown away, including countless churches, the high school, hospital and so much more, no one had the capacity to store, manage or distribute the thousands of pounds of unsolicited, donated goods such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed or perishable foodstuffs that was coming in. It all required helping agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors. Oftentimes the stuff that comes into warehouses is more for the people that sent it, than it is for the people in the disaster. At least that’s how it felt at times for many, in the end, at Joplin, and other places I have been.
Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful. We humanitarian workers call the crush of useless, often incomprehensible contributions “the second disaster.” We had that in Joplin, and quite a bit gets spoiled and rots because there is nowhere to store anything and there aren’t the human resources to handle it.
People and whole communities with big, open hearts and love to share many times over, think that people have lost everything, so they must NEED everything. So people SEND everything. Any donation is crazy if it’s not needed. Confirm what is needed BEFORE taking action!
- Donate in-kind goods that are specifically requested or needed by recognized organizations.
- Confirm the needs by contacting the voluntary organization of your choice before starting to collect.
- If you have a quantity of a given item or class of item to donate, and you need help in determining which organizations to give to, contact your FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison for guidance.
Even better are cash donations. I totally understand that people think it’s cold to send cash, but who is the giving about? The giver or receiver? Who will feel better with the cash donation – you or the recipient? Cash donations are so much more effective. They buy exactly what people need, when they need it.
Cash donations enable relief organizations to purchase supplies locally (as much as possible), which ensures that they’re fresh and familiar to survivors, purchased in just the right quantities, and delivered quickly. And those local purchases support the local merchants, which strengthens the local economy for the long run, helping the businesses to recover.
Cash offers voluntary agencies the most flexibility in obtaining the most-needed resources. And don’t send checks if you can avoid it, many people have no access to the post office, and you are creating something else to do… fetch the mail and make a bank deposit. Assuming you can get to your mail AND the bank. If you can’t do cash, DONATE ONLINE. If you need help in determining who to give to, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website has a list of major non-profits active in disaster work. Also, contact your FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison for guidance.
Donate through a trusted organization: At the national level, many voluntary-, faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. In addition to the national members, each state has its own list of voluntary organizations active in disasters. If you’d like to donate or volunteer to assist those affected by disaster, these organizations are the best place to start.
And always important, BE PATIENT. Recovery lasts a lot longer than the media attention. There will be volunteer needs for many months, often years, after the disaster – especially when the community enters the long-term recovery period. The long-term is often the toughest and most challenging, so keep in mind this is a marathon, with the beginnings being the sprinting. But the effects of such severe trauma show up long after all the immediate emergency care has left.
If I can support you in any way at all, please contact me.