Relief agencies say cash donations the best way to help disaster recovery

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 5/24/2013

Looking for a way to help disaster survivors and recovery efforts? A new campaign from some of the largest relief agencies in America says cash is king.

The Donating To Disaster Relief campaign is a partnership between the Ad Council and the Center for International Disaster information, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), and other agencies.

James McGowan, associate executive director for VOAD, said the organization worked with its members to create a campaign encouraging people to donate cash, rather than supplies, in the aftermath of a disaster.

“This has been an ongoing issue of unsolicited spontaneous donations that come about as a result of a disaster,” McGowan said in a conference call with Land Line on Thursday. “Cash is best. It’s easy to transport, and it can be turned into anything. If you’d like to donate something else, coordinate with volunteers there.”

VOAD’s network includes national agencies such as The American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, The United  Way and various faith-based relief organizations, as well as corporate, government and academic partners.

McGowan said what often happens is unsolicited donations of household items – such as used clothing, canned food and bottled water – can do more harm than good. If the donations are simply dropped off, rather than given as part of a coordinated effort, it can leave volunteers scrambling to sort out, store and secure the goods.

“We’re pulling resources that could be helping people recover from a disaster to sort, collect and return product,” he said. “To date, in Tuscaloosa (AL) there are still two warehouses full of blankets and all kinds of stuff they haven’t been able to take care of. Same with Joplin (MO).”

The American Logistics Aid Network agrees that cash is king, particularly in the early stages of the disaster relief effort.

“If you work with someone who is an established nonprofit who has already made a request for what’s needed, there will be opportunities to move freight long term,” said Kathy Fulton, director of operations with ALAN. “The scale of this disaster, and based on the numbers, if you’re taking the wrong stuff in at the wrong time, you’re actually inhibiting (relief efforts). … In contrast, cash contributions can be used immediately, can purchase exactly what is needed, support local economies, and provide culturally appropriate supplies to survivors.”

McGowan said the campaign is encouraging its member organizations to be transparent in their activities. The campaign also provides resources for donors to make informed decisions when supporting charities. Those resources include the Better Business Bureau’s website, and the following sites:

Both McGowan and Fulton also stressed that the devastation of storms like Monday’s tornado, or Hurricane Sandy last year, mean the recovery process will be a long one, and there will be plenty of ways to help.

“Three months from now they may need (drywall) or they may need timber,” McGowan said. “The recovery process isn’t just while the cameras are there. This is going to be a long-term event. Make sure if you’d still like to donate, connect with an agency that’s on the ground. … To the truckers, if you have been contracted with a load of stuff, make sure you let somebody know you’re on your way so you can get to the right distribution area.”

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