Why Send Money When I Have All This Stuff I Could Send?

May 03, 2011 - 6:34 PM EDT
Robert Myers III
bob_myers@use.salvationarmy.org
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Why Send Money When I Have All This Stuff I Could Send?
Robert (Bobby) Myers III is the Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) Director for The Salvation Army's Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division.  This article is reprinted from his division's blog PenDel EDS Talk (check it out!) and you can get more Bobby on Disaster Radio's Episode 9: Disaster Response In The Urban Environment.
 
Anytime a disaster strikes there are two inevitable things that will happen.  One is that people’s lives will be affected in some way, shape or form.  The other is that people will want to donate “stuff”.
 
After every major disaster I have been part of, we have been inundated with donated goods.  One thing is for sure…people have big hearts and good intent.  On the surface cleaning out a closet to donate your no longer needed pair pants or t-shirts that you wore that one time only, seems like good idea.  The reality is this can be a huge burden on the disaster response.
You may have noticed during big national level or even larger local disasters that disaster relief agencies (including The Salvation Army) will ask only for monetary gifts and not in-kind donations.  There are good reasons for this which you may or may not be aware of.
 
First, a cash gift is much easier to handle.  When a cash gift is donated it is immediately tracked from start to finish and can be applied to specific needs as they come to light.  With in-kind goods a lot of infrastructure is required to make those gifts manageable and able to be delivered to those in need.  Warehouses must be secured, trucks lined up to transfer the goods, mechanisms in place to get the goods to the disaster survivors…and the list goes on.  Much of this requires a lot of time and energy on the part of the agencies and their volunteers and ultimately will take longer to get into the hands of those that need it most.
 
One of the other benefits of a cash gift is that it can be used to purchase exactly what is needed.  At times we will request specific items for donation, but most of the time it is more efficient to ask for monetary donations and purchase exactly what is needed to ensure we get the proper items.  A good example is water.  We could easily ask the public for water and could get any form of water under the sun, 20 oz bottles, 16 oz bottles, 1 gallon jugs, 1 liter jugs… When we ask for monetary gifts we can purchase exactly what is needed and only as much as is needed, allowing us to use the money saved for other needs of the disaster survivors.
 
One of the biggest benefits of cash gifts is one that we don’t always see on the surface, and that’s the economic impact.  Whenever we purchase goods during disaster we always try to do so within (or as close to as possible to), the disaster affected region.  This helps to boost the local economy which is always hard hit following the impact on the local community.  At the same time monetary gifts allow us to purchase and utilize debit/gift cards for disaster survivors to spend within the community while also buying those specific items that they as a family need, not limited by only the items we have on hand.
 
Disasters are always unique, and thus so are the needs of those affected.  It is hard to just say “send this or that, because they always needed it”.  The truth is, we never know what the needs of individual communities may be, but cash gifts always allow us to best meet those needs…whatever they may be.
 
You can help by making a donation to disaster relief by going to www.disaster.salvationarmyusa.org.  Our donors are the ones that make our service to others possible, so help us to help those in need.

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