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Thread: What NOT to do for disaster victims

  1. #1

    What NOT to do for disaster victims

    What I am going to say comes from working four days in our state emergency operations center, dealing with first the Greensburg, KS tornado which virtually wiped that small town off the map. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday we dealt with flash floods and river floods that inundated hundreds of homes.

    I work as a volunteer for a charity, so I'm there as a coordinator, relaying information and requests to our units in the field and our state headquarters. Topeka Barb takes the morning shift and I take the afternoon shift. But in the spirit of cooperation I will speak of "we" as anybody on the disaster relief effort.

    Most of my psychic and mental energy this week has been trying to think of ways to tell people NOT to bring us semi loads of clothes.

    The disaster scene at Greensburg is a dangerous place, we had a broken leg just yesterday. We wanted to bring in another canteen to feed victims and relief workers, but there is no place to park it, so we are servicing people from large (12 passenger) vans we already have on site. No one is having any problem buying all the supplies we need locally. That includes bottled water, blankets, and food.

    The one logistical problem we have had is getting tetanus vaccine from 40 or so miles away when more is needed, because the road is choked with workers, heavy equipment, and "tourists." The one church building in town is choked to the rafters with "stuff," mostly clothing. There will be no services there anytime soon.

    Workers already have had to divert from disposing of tornado rubble to discard an entire semi load of clothing which had been placed near the town and was in the way.

    Five caravans yesterday returned with nearly all of their food because someone had come in unannounced and served people. Their food had not been inspected so there was no assurance that it had been maintained at proper temperatures. Dept. of Health and Environment sent a food inspector to check donated food that was arriving. One batch that I dealt with has a questionable future. It had been prepared for one charity that didn't need it, so it was planned to be delivered to another two days later, and again it wasn't needed. Let's hope it can be used before it has to be discarded.

    The bottom line is this: agencies that deal with disaster relief know from experience what they need to do and how to do it. What they need most is money. That is what to give in the first several days of an emergency.

    Food is a problem because of health codes. Very few church ladies know how to keep food safe while traveling a hundred miles, even if they make killer fried chicken.

    Clothing and household goods are seldom needed within the first few weeks, and genuinely get in the way when they are offered prematurely.

    NO CLOTHING DRIVES! ! ! No pots and pans! ! ! !

    Victims who are glad just to get a tent to sleep in can't use them, and this environment is not for good hearted but untrained volunteers.

    If you're a heavy equipment operator, never mind the above, as if you didn't already know that.

    I felt really good about my efforts yesterday and today. I stopped one truck from leaving Mississippi, and diverted one from Greensburg to Wichita, where the goods can be used. And I assisted in preparing a press release from our Governor which will say about what I said above. Now for a night's rest and back at it. The center is expected to be open for the rest of the month, and Topeka Tom and Topeka Barb are our charity's entire volunteer liaison staff.

  2. #2
    Is there somewhere money can be sent if we want to donate?

    If you're sure you don't want this bag of baby clothes.....

  3. #3
    great advice..thanks for reminding us all.

  4. #4

    Where to send cash donations

    OY I was asked where to send cash donations.

    I'd start with your church. If they have no disaster-specific fund, then ask your favorite local charity. For instance, the Southern Baptists are operating a kitchen near Greensburg from which food is distributed to victims and relief workers. I'm not Southern Baptist, so I'll move on, but if you ARE . . . . Rather than type in the entire list of church funds, I'll refer you to National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)

    United Way sometimes sets up a relief fund. In Wichita, for instance, their fund is the "Green for Greensburg" fund. (They can be forgiven that fund name.) If there is no fund designated, your contribution probably won't go the disaster relief.

    Funds can be called or sent to the national agencies that are on the ground, like Salvation Army or American Red Cross. I'll add the full list in my next post. It will take a while to enter.

    I'm posting this for the (ideally large) percentage who fit the catagories above.

    BTW, one task today is to stop a local clothing drive initiated by a retired professional group. No point in identifying them more specifically. That's one of the biggest obstacles, that we are dealing with (educating?) good people who are trying to help.

  5. #5

    American Red Cross on Donating Goods

    I should post this contact, too. It's the American Red Cross home page. Click on "Donating Goods" at the bottom of the orange block of addresses on the left side of the page.

    American Red Cross - Preparing Communities for an Emergency and Keeping People Safe - Preparedness

  6. #6

    Cash Donations List

    We found the list on the web. No point in retyping it.

    How You Can Help Tornado Victims - News Story - KMBC Kansas City

  7. #7
    I suspect that a big part of the problem is that many people want to help but just don't have any extra cash.

    Is there any way that such people can help? If there is no way that they can help now, is there a way for them to help later?

  8. #8

    Helping without cash

    There are a few things that could be done.

    Take some of the pressure off by contributing to a community charity. Goodwill, for instance, will be glad to take clothing. Sometimes it can be sold and part of the money dedicated to relief, but Goodwill has its own mission, remember. Don't forget that some people will give a certain amount, and if more is going to disaster relief, less will go to local charities.

    Volunteer at one of the agencies that is on the ground. Salvation Army, for instance, may be spread razor thin locally because every able body is away. Take up some of the slack by helping serve lunches or even mowing their lawn until things get back to normal. They will be glad to tell you what they need.

    Other agencies are always looking for volunteers, too.

    And stay alert to news releases or call the charities to see when they are ready for household goods. It will happen, it just won't happen for a while. See the link above the American Red Cross's "Donating Goods."

    Off now for another shift.

    BTW, Missouri closed their state emergency operations center yesterday. I think that's good news. It must mean that the flood waters on the Missouri have abated quite a bit.

  9. #9
    Thanks, Tom!

    So, it sounds like "the take home message" is that if you don't have cash, you can still help by:
    1) Providing goods or services to a local charity that may have had its resources drained by this (or any other) crisis
    2) Providing goods to the disaster area later; the Red Cross website has some info on this.

    I'm wondering if there's some efficient way to get that message out to all the people sending you truckloads of old clothes....

  10. #10

    Small Victory Today

    After a roundly unproductive weekend, some progress was made today. I was told the organization that had the clothing drive. We determined that not only were they looking for clothes, they had bad info on their website to the effect that clothes were being accepted by the Salvation Army and food by the Red Cross. Neither is true. And they had a small education center in rural Kansas as accepting clothing, too. We got everything in Topeka corrected easily and fast. They put up a statement that due to the response from the public, donations of used clothing were no longer being accepted. And they were looking for a local agency to accept the clothes they had.

    The small agency in rural Kansas also removed the bad info from their website and put up the same statement.

    I caught the first fellow in rural Kansas by surprise, and I waited for a few seconds (honestly, very few) for a response. He redirected my call and told me he was sorry to be acting like a deer in a semi's headlights, and I jokingly told him that was an appropriate metaphor, because that's exactly where he was. I hope the second guy tells him about our conversation so he understands what I meant. Semi loads of used clothing really do show up if you can't get them stopped.

    I feel good about today because I prevented that, for two agencies that were trying to help, and for all the agencies on the ground in Greensburg.

    JudyS: The governor's press release got almost no play, perhaps because it was distributed late Friday afternoon, and perhaps because used clothing isn't sexy enough for the evening news. I was pretty disappointed that our paper didn't carry it, or, if they did, it wasn't very prominent.

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