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Posted by admin7 on September 13, 2011

You’ll have to excuse me but I am about to drag my bully pulpit in front of me and let go with a sermon about donating cash instead of used clothing, canned food, house wares and the like. When the subject about charitable giving comes up, I hear a lot of people who claim they do not want to donate just money because they have a great desire to do much more.


Helping Locally Works

There’s absolutely nothing wrong helping out with needed items like clothing and food when, for example, a local family has been displaced by a home fire. There is a specific face for the needy recipient and often the goods come from people who donate extra cans from the pantry or that trunk of clothes that was destined for Goodwill but has not made that trip yet. Usually friends, family members or a local church spearheads such efforts to immediately place in the hands of a needy family the necessities of life to keep them going.


Large Disaster Relief Efforts Hampered by Donations

Large international service organizations involved with disaster relief do not want your goods donations. Think about it. Even if your organization has 10,000 cans of something, your attempted donation may just be refused. And, the best intentioned donations from corporations that involve food, clothing and even medical items are more than likely going to be turned down. Why you ask?  The simple answer comes down to relief efforts should be influenced by need and not what things people have at the ready to donate. Humanitarian aid should never do any harm, but unwanted items can do harm such as unneeded food items sitting in rotting piles at seaports and airports while necessary items like bulk bought blankets and medicines are being stopped because there’s no room at the holding area.


The Charitable Organization Is Not In The Trucking Business

Charitable organizations typically do not own their own trucks or airplanes. They have to rely on paying for commercial ground and air freight just like anybody else does. Furthermore, transportation costs keep escalating and are one of the most expensive aspects involved with major international disaster relief. Large organizations such as the Red Cross purchase huge supplies of blankets and Jerry cans (fuel) that are stored throughout the world in areas where disasters typically take place. This makes it faster and cheaper to get necessary supplies to impacted areas. Additionally, once these supplies are exhausted more are purchased either in that country that is being affected by a disaster or from one of its neighbors. This is particularly true when it comes to items such as food and soap. Also, medicine is an item that is typically purchased rather than attempt logistics for transporting it from long distances away in developed countries where donations are usually started. Furthermore, cash purchases of local items will suit local taste and, in effect, can give a boost to the local economy while ensuring that transportation costs are reduced. The experienced savings are then used to buy more relief aid items.


Storage Is Always A Challenge

Many necessary relief aid items are quite expendable including food and medicine. Storage space is usually at a premium with regards to almost every post-disaster setting encountered throughout the world. One of the great ironies in recent years was the fact that in Banda Aceh, Indonesia after the tsunami hit in December 2004, many health centers had to use patient rooms to store donated drugs that were inappropriate for local use. Sick people were turned away to store medicines that were sent into help sick people. Unfortunately, pharmaceuticals are sensitive items that are subject to being damaged by humidity, heat and light. If proper storage conditions are not used, some effectiveness may be lost at best or, at worst, the drug may become totally useless. There is no way of knowing if a particular container has been damaged because there is nothing visually to identify if it has lost any effectiveness. Furthermore, medicines that are not being recognized by local medical personnel might lead to fatal doses. Too often patients are faced with the challenge for arranging a variety of pills packaged in different boxes, labeled in a language they do not understand not specifying what amounts need to be taken. There is a very real chance that these donated drugs, although well-intentioned, might prove fatal in the end.


Streamlining Adds To Efficiency

Imagine the need to set up tents in a refugee camp to house 10,000 families. How would you handle this? I, for one, would opt to train a group of volunteers who would then set about training the people who will be living in these tents to set them up and use them. What did you do to accomplish this if every single tent was different from the other one? Now think about it. What if it was a water pump? Or possibly a dialysis machine or maybe an incubator? All of these items need to be standardized since if they are intended for short- or long-term use, not only one method of operating is necessary, but consider what is needed for maintenance and repair.


Summary: The best intentions that people have can be better met when it comes to charitable giving by making cash donations to large disaster relief funds or organizations like the Red Cross that will definitely put the money to more efficient use.

Your thoughts?  Comments welcome.