Material donations challenge logistics


MINNEAPOLIS (Dec. 9, 1998) -- Relief organizations are scrambling

to stay on top of the logistics of collecting, storing, and shipping goods

donated by the public in the wake of Hurricane Mitch's devastation in

Central America.

When the logistics of gathering and shipping goods are overcome, delivery

is challenging in areas that may not have electricity or even open roads.

Most U.S. disaster response organizations are using partner agencies in the

affected area to deliver donations. "Our partner

arrangement really helps with distribution," said Sara Coppler, Material

Resource Consultant for the Emergency Response Office of Church World


"After they make their requests, we tell them what's coming and whether

it's by sea or air, and they know what to do from there." She continues,

"The initial requests were dealing with bulk food, not canned or individual

servings because they're a nightmare to distribute."

Bulk foods are often grains, beans, or rice in 50 to 100 pound bags. In

Central America, beans and rice are staples, but sending a few cans of lima

beans, for example, wouldn't help because of the huge numbers who need food

and because lima beans are not part of the native diet.

What about other things that are needed, like medicines? "We

don't usually send medicines until something specific is requested,"

Coppler says. "Health kits (for personal hygiene needs) can also be part of

an immediate response. When the local partners are further along in dealing

with the disaster, they reassess their needs and may begin requesting

things like hand tools and building materials."

Garry Flake, President of Latter Day Saints Charities reports his

organization has already sent bulk food and clothing. LDS also have a

large food program, distributing beans, rice, powdered milk, vegetable oil,

sugar, salt and soap in packages for a family of 4 to 6 that will keep them

eating for about two weeks.

"We've got 40 canning factories, a soap factory, a large flour mill, a

powdered milk operation, and about 100 farms in the US, all supporting our

food program. Their output goes to the poor and needy in this country on

on-going basis, and on emergency basis it can go worldwide. We have relief

and development programs in about 80 countries world wide annually. When

disaster strikes, you can pull the things you need from the system."

What about families that just want to send some of their extra canned goods?

"People are generous and wonderful," says Flake, "but if they give you a can

or two of pineapple juice, how can it be assimilated into a specific

disaster need, be shipped and distributed? We tell people 100 percent of their

donation will be used for charitable purposes, but if it is inappropriate

for a particular disaster, we'll use it elsewhere."

Flake also notes shipping assistance for the LDS effort has come from the

US Air Force Reserve, and Chiquita and Dole -- two corporations with lots of

shipping connections in Central America. And LDS' idea of partnership moves

beyond various LDS bodies and major corporations or local partners.

"We have excellent cooperative arrangements with groups such as the Adventists,

Catholic Relief Services and Baptist organizations," concludes Flake. "We

all have a scriptural mandate, given to us by Christ, to reach out to those

in need, wherever they are,"

Even with all this cooperation, the local partners on the ground in the

effected area are key. Most relief organizations spend a good deal of time

developing relationships and capacities so that when disaster strikes

everyone knows what to do and what to expect from each other. Still, a

disaster the size of Mitch can make things difficult as the very

infrastructure needed to move large amounts of goods may be wiped out.

"We're trying different interventions to get to normal," aid Bev Abma of

the Christian Reformed World Relief Commission (CRWRC). "Of course, we've

worked with local partner groups for a number of years. They tell us what


need, give us proposals and monitor the distribution."

"Reformed congregations in the Grand Rapids, MI area are putting together

food boxes to feed a family of five for a week," she said. "We're combining

it with Thanksgiving

observances. Fifteen hundred boxes have been distributed (to be filled).

The boxes take 14 pounds of rice, 14 pounds corn meal, 5 pounds of beans,

milk powder, and oats."

The program focuses on the Grand Rapids area because of logistics. Abma

explains, "We opened it to all Reformed congregations in the US. But when

people looked at the cost of organizing such a drive and transporting

everything they decided it made more sense to focus on money contributions,"

outside the headquarters area. A partner in Grand Rapids does the

containerizing of donations. A thousand boxes will fill a 40-foot


"We have 18 metric tons of high-energy biscuits donated by the Canadian

military," Abma added. "We'll also send out 25 tons of

white sorghum seed for planting in the next few days."

Abma also reports a donation of $2.5 million (Canadian Dollars) in food

grains, for mass feeding and food for work programs.

Tom Hazelwood of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) reports

they have already sent bulk foods, school kits and health kits and are now

working on putting together medical teams. UMCOR is accepting small

donations of food, but is also getting some nice bulk donations, including

truckloads of candied yams, rice, and beans. These are channeled through


"One ship just left for Honduras loaded with food and grain. CCD

and CEPAD, our local partners, are prepared to distribute what they've asked

for. They're doing a lot of mass feedings, so that's where the bulk foods

are going."

Despite all the technical difficulties, some donors are willing and able to

be generous in appropriate ways. Coppler tells one such story.

"We had a farm family call from Kansas who offered some beans for Mitch

victims. When we asked what kind, they said 'pinto and northern.' Well,

the pinto beans were appropriate for the diet of most Central Americans, so

we asked how much they might want to donate. They said they had 14,000

pounds in storage. We said 'Great, how can we get them?' The Kansas family

said "They're stored in our local mill which will put them in 50 or 100

pound bags, as you wish.'

"We asked for 100-pound bags, as this is the

largest bag that can be safely carried on someone's back.

Then the mill called and said they would add more, up to 20,000 pounds of

pinto beans! They are now working with the local churches and the community

to raise money for trucking the beans to the shipping point."

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