Best way to help?

Emergency management officials sent a clear message to people who want to help Hurricane Charley survivors.

BY SUSAN KIM | SARASOTA, Fla. | August 14, 2004

"The best way to help is to make a cash donation to your denomination's disaster response fund."

—Linda Reed Brown

Emergency management officials on Saturday afternoon sent a clear message to people who want to help Hurricane Charley survivors: "Don't just show up. Confirm there is a job to do before you leave," said a state emergency management official.

It's not that thousands of hurricane survivors don't want volunteer help. It's that volunteers need to be focused on meeting the most urgent need, and they need to work with groups who can coordinate where they go and what they do.

Two volunteer reception centers are operating, one in Arcadia and one in Sarasota. A multi-agency relief distribution warehouse opened in Tampa. On Tuesday it was being operated by state and local emergency management officials, but operations will be turned over to Adventist Community Services.

Response leaders were also wrestling with the problem of inappropriate donations, especially used clothing that seems to arrive by the truckload after a major disaster.

Unfortunately, some major TV networks, by Saturday afternoon, had already put out a nationwide message to millions of people that hurricane survivors needed clothing.

Used clothing has become, to many disaster responders, often known as "the second disaster." Response leaders don't want the wake of Hurricane Charley to become an echo of the wake of Hurricane Andrew, when tractor-trailer loads full of used clothing were stuck on highway shoulders because roads were inaccessible. Truckloads of clothing mildewed and had to be burned because they were simply unusable.

Similarly, during Hurricane Floyd recovery, one tiny rural North Carolina town received thousands of pairs of shoes.

In the face of national broadcasts regarding the need for clothing, response leaders predicted that, on Sunday, churches will start clothing drives after hearing the message from national TV news.

But one state official urged: "Don't collect until you confirm."

Then what's the best way to help? "We want financial contributions to organizations," he said.

Florida relief agencies have already reported that hundreds of calls are coming in from people who want to help.

"Make no mistake: there are lots of needs. If you are in the area directly impacted by Hurricane Charley, and you receive a specific request for goods from a local social service agency, then you need to honor that. But if you donít live in the area that was devastated, the best way to help is to make a cash donation to your denomination's disaster response fund," said Linda Reed Brown, associate director of domestic response for the Church World Service Emergency Response Program. "These funds will support the recovery efforts of local churches and local communities."

For those bent on making a material donation, will there be a prioritized list of goods? Well, the needs of hurricane survivors are changing almost minute by minute.

"A specific list of goods -- that's hard to do," said one FEMA official.

The message? Send cash. It's what Hurricane Charley survivors need the most.

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