Disaster response is not a time for uncluttering

The tragic hurricane and flooding in Texas filled the news in the U.S. this week. And because so many of us want to help however we can, it’s a good time to remember that generally the best thing you can give is money, in whatever amount works for you.

Yes, sometimes relief organization will ask for specific donations, and if you’re in the area that might indeed help, if done well. As Kelly Phillips Erb noted in an article for Forbes:

Check with the organization first. While most organizations prefer cash, there are some soliciting in-kind donations. … Those wish lists may change as needs are assessed and storage for items may be limited. Check with the organization before you send or drop off anything.

I’ve gathered some examples of the wish lists I’ve seen lately regarding efforts to provide relief from the storms in Texas.

When Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio’s mayor, announced some donation collection sites, he was clear about what was wanted:

Nirenberg said that the city council offices will be used as additional drop off locations for donations. They will be collecting any food, new clothes, diapers, pet food and other supplies. The mayor wanted to emphasize that no used clothing will be accepted.

In another example, one of the shelters noted the donations they were seeking as of Tuesday morning:

As of 9:45 a.m., here is an updated list of items needed at the GRB shelter:

  • Toiletries – travel size shampoo, conditioner, soap
  • Wheelchairs
  • Bottled water
  • Individually packaged food
  • Pillows

We do not need additional clothing donations at this time.

KENS 5 TV noted the following wish lists:

Trusted World is looking for the following supplies: New underwear and socks (all sizes), non-perishable food, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, baby diapers, wipes and formula.

SPCA of Texas is looking for the following supplies: cat litter, litter boxes, towels, blankets, large wire crates, toys, treats, pet beds, newspaper and gas gift cards.

You’ll notice that most of the requested things are new items — not (in general) the kind of things you would bundle up from cleaning out your closets. Of course, there are a few exceptions. For example, if you live locally and you can safely get to a shelter that wants toiletries — and you accumulate all those little hotel bottles — this might be a great time to unclutter.

If you want some good insight on why unsolicited donations of stuff is a bad idea, CBC Radio has a great explanatory article, which begins as follows:

It’s called “the second disaster” in emergency management circles — when kind-hearted outsiders send so much “help” to a disaster zone that it gets in the way.

Unwanted donations of physical goods can divert important resources as people on the ground must deal with them — sort and store, for example.

If you live outside the disaster area and you really want to donate something specific, not just send money, you can look for organizations that have Amazon wish lists (or other such lists) and then purchase exactly what’s needed, knowing it will be shipped to the right people to handle your donation.

But otherwise, you might want to heed this thought from Alexandra Erin: “Relief donation tip: money does not have to be cleaned, sorted, stored, or inspected and can be turned into whatever resource is needed.” If you decide to go this route, there are many lists of organizations that would appreciate your support, including one from Texas Monthly.

3 Comments for “Disaster response is not a time for uncluttering”

  1. posted by Debbie on

    Yes!! I live in Houston, and while I was fortunate not to be affected by the flooding, there were shelters set up in our area for the evacuees. There was a call for donations to help those evacuating and within hours, people lined up to drop off clothes, bedding, food, toiletries, so much so that within a day, they had to tell people to stop bringing donations so that they could sort them all. I saw pictures of mounds of clothing. Obviously way more was donated than people could use and it’ll be interesting to see where all the leftovers end up.

  2. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    Years ago, after a flood disaster in my area, an organisation started to match items that people wanted to give with specific things organisations need. Givit.org.au now runs all the time and is a great way to give to needy causes the things they need, when they need it.

    The site is set up so that one can search for local places wanting items, or donate to a particular campaign (e.g. post cyclone / flood disasters). Plus, if you have something specific, you can list it on the site for donation (so a charity can look there before they ask for it generally).

    Storage of the item stays with the donor until such time as it is matched and given to the recipient.

  3. posted by laura ann on

    If people have needed items for shelters, than by all means donate them if they are not being used or not wanted. Otherwise donate to the Salvation Army or local church relief. I wouldn’t give a dime to the Red Cross, when they took millions in donations and didn’t give it to the 9/11 families of victims intended for, which was exposed on mainline news. People don’t forget! also they pay huge salaries to Red Cross top employees, while little goes to help.

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