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Don’t donate clothes or blankets: Give money
22 October 2005
by Zarrin T. Caldwell and Megan Quill

As the television bombards us with images of the devastation caused by disasters overseas and close to home, we, as friends, neighbours, or as humanitarians, may feel compelled to act. We may be inclined, for example, to rummage through attics and to send clothes, or shoes, or blankets—to offer whatever help we can in a situation that may make us feel very helpless. But, the reality is that when a major disaster occurs, these kinds of contributions are not always the most beneficial.

Supplies will often start flowing into a region very quickly after a disaster occurs, but if they have not been requested, they may cause more hassle than good. Such donations are quite likely to overwhelm the local capacity for reception, storage, classification, control, and distribution and, therefore, further tax the time and resources of local volunteers. Indeed, volunteers themselves may be a hindrance if they have not been properly trained ahead of time.

While large collected material donations such as bottled water or food items are useful if organized by large organizations or corporations with their own distribution networks, financial donations are far more practical for individuals. These monetary donations are directed to areas of need and used to directly purchase necessary goods, such as food, water, or shelter.

When purchased on-site by trained volunteers, goods are more likely to be appropriate to the culture, diet, and environment of the intended recipients. Cash donations also avoid the high cost of transportation and can be made with the click of a button over the Internet, which ensures their immediate availability for relief workers.

Even though financial contributions are the preferred donation following a disaster, concerns have been raised about the accountability of these funds. There have been many stories in the mainstream media, for example, about Internet scams, the misappropriation of donations, and corruption of aid funds at local levels.

While governments in particular need to do all they can to ensure money gets where it is intended to help those most in need, most donations made through reputable and experienced disaster relief, response, recovery, or other non-profit organizations are well used.

A “one stop shopping” site for disaster giving is Network for Good, a leading charitable resource and e-philanthropy site, which connects people to charities via the Internet. The site will link you to the many charities helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, supporting disaster relief in South Asia, and providing vital food aid to drought-stricken Niger, among others.

Many OneWorld partner organizations are directly involved in disaster relief and recovery programmes as well. The following “Guide to Giving” offers some options, with a special focus on activities associated with Hurricane Katrina.

For more terrific tips on “appropriate giving,” check out a fact sheet on the topic from InterAction.

·         The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has been feeding and assisting the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. AFSC is also working with interfaith ministries to assist communities shattered by Katrina and has long specialized in seeking out the underserved in disaster and war zones.

·         The American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund enables the American Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counselling, and other assistance to those in need. Learn more from their website about how you can help the victims of recent hurricanes, and thousands of others across the US affected by disasters.

·         Vegan meals from Food for Life Global are being delivered to hurricane survivors in Mississippi who drive in or line up for a hearty lunch.

·         At GlobalGiving, you can learn about and help fund locally run social and environmental projects from around the world, including projects, like flood reconstruction in Mumbai, India, that are helping people prepare for and recover from disasters.

·         Support community-based relief and reconstruction for the Mississippi Delta farmers and fishworkers, or support village-level relief and reconstruction efforts in South Asia with an online donation to Grassroots International.

·         InterAction—the American Council for Voluntary International Action—provides a helpful list of member organizations accepting material donations for disaster response and recovery.

·         Lutheran World Relief works with partners in 50 countries to strengthen communities recovering from disasters. Among other programmes, they are seeking support to distribute 995 metric tonnes of food to approximately 93,000 people in Niger, which is suffering from a severe drought and food crisis.

·         Madre is accepting donations earmarked to assist the thousands of survivors of domestic violence in the southeast, whose shelters and safe havens were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

·         Besides economic development projects in South Asia, Mercy Corps is presently working to meet the needs of survivors in rural areas in Louisiana and Mississippi. Their efforts focus on procuring essential supplies for shelters and schools as well as meeting the long-term psychological and other needs of survivors.

·         Oxfam America is helping local groups along America’s Gulf Coast provide food and relief aid, including programmes to ensure that the poorest communities — and immigrant groups in particular — are not left behind.

·         World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization, partners with local churches, faith-based organizations, and other community groups to tackle the root causes of poverty. A pledge to their American Families Assistance Fund will help provide relief to victims of this year’s devastating hurricanes in the Gulf region.