Last Friday morning I found myself at the scene of a house fire on Grand Avenue in Hannibal. While I carried out my duties as a reporter, a part of me couldn’t help but feel for this family which pretty much was losing everything they owned except the clothes on the back.
As they watched the dark smoke billow from their home of close to two decades, both the husband and wife expressed concerns about what they were going to do next.
I felt so inadequate. I was wanting to do something, but knowing there was little I could do to relieve their loss. Then it hit me. I ran to my car and pulled out a happy face umbrella from the back seat.
“Here you go. I know this will help.”
You’re undoubted thinking I inhaled a bit too much smoke if it made sense to offer an umbrella in a situation like that.
To be sure, I didn’t present such an inappropriate gift. Yet the example illustrates what has been happening on a much larger scale on the East Coast in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
In the aftermath of the powerful storm, which did an estimated tens of billions of dollars in damage, Americans have frequently been asked to do what they could to help with the relief efforts. And to their credit, many Americans have stepped forward.
According to The Associated Press, as of last Friday the Red Cross was reporting it had raised $117 million in donations and pledges. The Salvation Army had collected $5 million.
Relief campaigns sponsored by NBC and ABC generated a combined $40 million. Many celebrities were either reaching into their own pockets to help (Lady Gaga donated $1 million) or were lending their name and/or talents to fund-raising benefits. The Humane Society of America and some other corporations are donating 40,000 pounds of food and medicine for displaced pets.
However, there also have been numerous accounts of people giving items that are creating what one relief expert is calling the “second disaster after the disaster.”
It is not uncommon for people to be donating items such as vases and vacuum cleaners, pots and pans, opened cases of bottled water, and used clothing to people who in many cases have lost their homes and possessions.
One fire department out east organized a relief effort that consisted of 11 trucks of donated supplies. But the firefighters were left to figure out what to do with a pile of clothes 7 feet high that filled up a bay where a truck at the department’s headquarters is usually parked.
A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, was quoted in an AP story as saying that “well-intentioned, yet inappropriate” donations can divert relief groups and government agencies.
Page 2 of 2 - Despite pleas from relief agencies for people to either give money or the specific supplies that are needed, it hasn’t halted well-intentioned people from going ahead and collecting items that simply aren’t needed.
One New Jersey native said she was willing to accept anything people wanted to send. Among the items she was asking people to provide were grills and charcoal to cook for aid workers. Her plan was to take a caravan of trucks from place to place unloading whatever is needed. But what happens to the donated items that no one needs, or wants?
It was Winston Churchill who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
But when we give a gift that won’t meet the immediate needs of someone, are we really a help or a hindrance?