Disaster relief officials in Tuscaloosa Alabama and Joplin Missouri say their store rooms are brimming with “junk” that was sent as well-intentioned donations. People have sent unsolicited items such as diapers, “slightly used” clothing, food, toys, and used furniture.
Officials say these items create a logistical nightmare for local relief officials already struggling to deal with the disaster itself. Storage space and volunteer time must be diverted to manage the flow of donations.
Jono Anzalone from FEMA said that the Joplin area was seeing lots of unsolicited items and that “it’s really deterring from a lot of lifesaving, life-protective measures that are ongoing throughout the city”. Officials say they don’t want to deter donations but that it should be part of a larger coordinated effort.
Butler County Emergency Management issued the following list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when donating to victims of the disaster:
Disaster Giving Do’s & Don’ts
• DO: Give monetary donations to a recognized disaster relief agency; They have agreements with suppliers of the needed items and can get them at tremendous discounts as well as being delivered and stored appropriately.
• Don’t: Start or support an effort to gather hand me down items of any kind, especially furniture items and used clothes or perishable food supplies to take to a disaster site. These items will have to be sorted, cleaned and stored or kept refrigerated somewhere and eat up hundreds of man hours, not to mention space for storing them (these items usually end up in landfills).
• DO: Give support to faith based organizations that have experience in disaster relief. These organizations often provide the ONLY long term support for disaster survivors and are the cornerstone for rebuilding efforts in major disasters.
• Don’t: Fall for internet requests directed to your e-mail asking for donations, often the scammers have very official sounding names and will always have a story that brings tears to your eyes. The disaster survivors will never see a dime.
• DO: Wait- yes I know it sounds difficult but remember; disasters are long term events, the effects are felt for years. Long after the TV cameras have left critical needs still remain. Donations of money, specific items and more importantly skilled volunteers are often needed long after the disaster event itself. As an example, there are still needs for recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina and it occurred in 2005!
• Don’t: Rush to the disaster site to help right after it occurs. Normally the first 24 hours are emergency response issues handled by members of agencies with specific training to operate in hazardous situations. You can call 2-1-1 to volunteer and they will coordinate with local authorities to provide volunteer assistance when it is safe to do so.
• DO: Be generous, it is individual and cooperate giving that is the cornerstone of disaster recovery. If it were not for the generosity of others disaster recovery might not occur for many. To find out about specific items or services that is needed call 2-1-1 or a major disaster response agency.
For information on how to be an informed giver you can call us here at Butler County Emergency Management 316-733-9796, visit our website at www.butlercoema.org or contact your local Red Cross, Salvation Army or United Way office.