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The Ugly Truth about Disaster Donations
January 11, 2013
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When a disaster strikes a city or region many response systems initiate and work to save lives and restore people's property.  Fire and and police do their jobs extremely well and everyone tries to chip in and help with the needs of survivors.

 

Fortunately or unfortunately we are a nation of givers.  People from near and far want to help.  Many a well intentioned effort has been launched and completed to send food and other donated items like cloths to people who have lost everything.  The problem is that these "physical" donations are going to be ...?  Which is the issue. Where do they go to?  Who receives them, sorts them and then orchestrates the donation of donated items to people in need?  It is a a huge problem for the people at disaster sites who soon become inundated with donated items.

 

See this NPR report Thanks, But No Thanks: When Post-Disaster Donations Overwhelm.  This story only touches on the depth and breadth of the issue.

 

Two personal memories remain for me.  One is how after the Loma Prieta Earthquake San Francisco was overwhelmed with donations.  I recall stories of unwanted donations coming in, to include a wedding dress being donated.  Then there was the time well meaning people in SE Washington State loaded up a semi-truck load of potatoes and were sending them to Florida following Hurricane Andrew  They wanted to know where they should send them?  I'll bet you they ended up in a landfill somewhere.  What would you do with 30,000 lbs of potatoes if they were sitting outside your door in a truck and the driver said, "Where do you want me to put them?"

 

The reality is that cash donations are the best way to help.  If people want to donate something physically, canned and other nonperishable food stuffs are a good way to go.  Every community has a food bank which means they have a built-in distribution system to get the food to people in need.

 

For emergency managers we so need to realize that no matter if we asked for them or not, the donations of chandeliers and wedding dresses are coming.  We need a system or system of systems to deal with them.  I personally have advocated for a Disaster Wiki type of solution that matches needs with providers.  This helps primarily with the services and product donations, but it might also be helpful for personal donations.  We need to give people an outlet for their energy and good will.

 

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