Keep your shirt on...

Hundreds of miles away from Florida, a flyer pleads for donations for hurricane survivors.

BY SUSAN KIM | ALEXANDRIA, Va. | August 20, 2004

"Funds have to be made available for long-term assistance for individuals who have been made homeless by this storm."

—Bruce Netter

Hundreds of miles away from Florida, a flyer pleads for donations for hurricane survivors.

The flyer, stuck in all the doorways of a large apartment building in northern Virginia, reads, in part: "Dear Friends…Here is a list of the most needed items: wipes, cleaning towels."

And, by Friday afternoon, donations were beginning to fill a designated bin.

But before you give the shirt off your back, please, consider giving cash, urged response leaders in the thick of offering relief in Florida.

Bill Wealand, who has been responding to the most urgent needs in Charley's wake since the monster storm made landfall, put it simply: "Right now cash donations are best."

Wealand, who works with the Florida Conference of the United Church, said there's just no place to put "stuff" - T-shirts or otherwise.

"We have precious little storage space that hasn't been destroyed near impacted areas," said Wealand. "And we don't have people to unpack and sort stuff."

Your money will go further if you simply write a check to a responding organization, echoed Bruce Netter, who represents three Florida-based groups all responding to Charley: Neighbors 4 Neighbors, FRIENDS, and the Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

"It doesn't cost any money to deliver cash," said Netter. With cash contributions, relief groups can purchase the specific items for the people most in need. "Because of the diverse populations through the path of the storm, and the different cultures impacted, there are supplies coming in now that won't be directed as well as money can," said Netter.

Some faith-based and voluntary agencies will also use cash donations to help meet needs that will go unmet months from now, after emergency relief groups have left the scene, added Netter. "Funds have to be made available for long-term assistance for individuals who have been made homeless by this storm. You can't pay rent or rebuild a house with a case of beans."

Danielle Kearney of Lutheran Social Services of Florida agreed. "At this point there are migrant workers in desperate need. We need cash. Every dollar will be used."

If your church has a clothing drive on Sunday morning, you might want to ask yourself: are clothes really needed?

"How much precious volunteer labor will be required to deliver those types of donations?" mused Stan Hankins with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).

For those who want to donate material goods, one option is the Church World Service (CWS) "Gift of the Heart Kits." Putting together kits provides an outlet for hands-on donations, and CWS has specific instructions for packing and shipping on its Web site.

PDA has coordinated "kit-building" events that have been very rewarding for people, said Hankins. "If you must send something material - build a kit," he said. "It's a wonderful activity for young people."

Echoing Etter and others, Hankins said the problem with packing and sending donations without going through a response group is that, often, those donations have no way of getting to people who need them the most. "You can't just throw whatever in the back of a trailer," he said, "and hope it will reach the most vulnerable people."

It's not that tractor-trailer loads of relief supplies, aren't welcomed, elaborated Patricia Robbins, founder of Farm Share, a nonprofit dedicated to sorting, packing and distribution of food for people in need. But loads of supplies have to be carefully coordinated, and it's a sophisticated system, she said.

"We have 90,000 square feet of warehouse space, and if anybody wants to donate a tractor-trailer load of supplies, they need to contact us," said Robbins, "because without coordination a tractor-trailer load can sit there waiting for 24 hours. Don't just send a tractor-trailer load full of toothpaste. There are certain things people need at different times. They don't have a dry place to put these T-shirts. Also, there are outlying areas that are devastated and we are trying to get out to those."

Even people with a specific cause - say, children or animals - can find a good outlet for cash donations.

The Church of the Brethren Disaster Child Care program has deployed teams to Florida and, instead of sending toys or teddy bears, they should write a check, said Helen Stonesifer, coordinator of that program. "This supports our people on site, their travel, meals and lodging. I know people want to send items, especially for children. But that can create a disaster in itself."

And if animals are your concern, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a similar plea for cash donations - not leashes or dog food. "The need is fluid," said HSUS spokesperson Karen Allanach. "It's ever-changing, and cash gives us the flexibility to meet that need."

National news media footage showing Charley's devastation has people across the country wanting to know how to help, she added. "This story has reached far and wide."

But people who really want to help with hurricane relief should also remember to retain their compassion and fervor a few months from now, reminded Robbins. "I am afraid everybody will forget about these people in two months," she said. Robbins lost her own home to Hurricane Andrew 12 years ago.

"I've stood in line for water. It was a year before I got back into my house. I've been there."

Related Topics:

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More links on How to Help

More links on Material Donations


Related Links:

Church World Service “Gift of the Heart” kits

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Church of the Brethren Disaster Child Care program

Farm Share

The Humane Society of the United States


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