02 Sep Disaster Relief: Are Your Donations Helping?
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that just happened…” I say to myself, scooping another spoonful of cereal as I watch the morning news report on the latest natural disaster. Mutterings like, “Look at the devastation,” or “If that happened here…” usually follow my initial stunned remark. Nevertheless, all my jumbled and worried thoughts always lead me to one simple conclusion: I have to help.
…or at least I’ve always assumed the conclusion was simple.
In the wake of any disaster, whether it be fires in California or a typhoon in Taiwan, it doesn’t take long for me to start thinking of ways to show my support. Those sweaters that I never wear, sitting at the bottom of my drawer below piles of other garments, could be put to better use by keeping someone else warm at night. Or my old childhood sneakers, albeit having taken a light beating, can still protect another kid’s feet. Soon enough, I have a checklist forming in my mind with the mental image of a box full of donations.
It wasn’t until I began working with nonprofits that I realized, while my heart may have been in the right place, the best solution may not be as obvious.
In an article written by Pam Fessler of NPR, donors’ good intentions are shown under a more truthful light – “It happens in every disaster: People want to help, but they often donate things that turn out to be more of a burden.” In fact, an estimated 60% of items that are donated are often left unused, finding a home in landfills as opposed to helping the victims. Old clothing and food definitely fall under this category, but Fessler includes, “sometimes it’s things that make you wonder, such as chandeliers and high-heeled shoes.”
Juanita Rilling, Director of the Center for International Disaster Information, recounted the relief efforts in Honduras after the hurricane in 1988. One morning, she had received a call that a cargo plane loaded with medical supplies needed to land. Unfortunately, the tarmac was full, housing piles of unsolicited donations and forcing the plane to land elsewhere. “It ended up upending everyone’s plans by about 48 hours, which is critical time in a disaster,” reported Rilling to NPR.
Now, if you think I’m suggesting that you to stop donating, rest assured, that is not the case. When disaster strikes, we can’t ignore those affected; I like to think it’s in our nature to want to extend a helping hand when we see others in need. What we can do is to be more mindful of what we donate. While high-heels might be nice for a night-out, they aren’t going to feed mouths or treat the injured (from what I understand, high-heels are hard enough to walk in already).
That’s why I am proud to be working with Good360 as they roll out their Disaster Recovery360 program. With it, non-profits on the ground after a disaster will be able to communicate to companies and individuals exactly what they need, even as needs change over time. This ensures the company’s goal of delivering the right goods to the right place at the right time.
So while I’ll still be filling out that mental checklist of donations I can make, I will certainly be doing more to make sure I’m helping and not hurting. Whether it’s getting in contact with a nonprofit to see what’s really needed or just checking Disaster Recovery360, I’ll be sure it won’t be my donations that keep medical supplies from landing.