In the past few days I found myself involved a few, sometimes terse, but more often congenial, email/ Facebook conversations about charitable giving. I know, I know, how do you have a terse conversation about giving when presumably you both hope for the same thing?
These conversations are the form of giving to relief efforts in Haiti. The terse nature? Whether giving stuff, toothpaste, antiseptic cream, band-aids, etc. is a help or a hindrance?
My take? Give cash! Not stuff.
The warehousing and shipping costs, the time taken to organize packages, send from Arizona, get it over to Haiti, or be distributed when it is there, never mind whether or not the stuff is of any use to the people there all makes me question the donation of stuff. The agencies already present on the ground in Haiti, those who have a background in aid work, reports in reputable newspapers pretty much all say to donate cash. Monies can reach agencies who were established before the earthquake and who may have a firmer background in the geography, politics, culture and needs of the people there quicker than random items collected by people thousands of miles away who may have never strayed outside of the United States.
BUT! They argue, the need will continue and our stuff will get there eventually. I guess that is true, but in between there is real need now and why not trust the organizations on the ground and the people there to make the right choice with your money and to help now AND in the future.
Oh, I realize this is particularly rich coming from someone who is actively engaged in encouraging donations of stuff in the form of diapers, tampons, adult diapers, sanitary pads to diaper banks. The hypocrisy! I could argue there is a difference, but the truth is that even the diaper banks and the homeless shelters would be better off with donations of cash. Cash to pay for the phones, cash to pay for the warehouse and the electricity that allows the volunteers to package and distribute, cash to buy exactly what their clients need. So why do I still persist with encouraging donation of stuff to diaper banks?
1. Some diaper banks (ex. our local, Diaper Bank of S. Arizona) will accept original open bags of diapers at their main office. What a great way to unload that package of diapers your child no longer fits into.
2. For some of us, picking up an extra box of wipes, diapers, sanitary napkins, or tampons while we’re at the store and thinking about it and dropping the donation in an easily accessible drop off box means we do give even when it seems like a small amount and may not have otherwise given.
3. Diaper Banks often do specify what they need, and in fact Help A Mother Out has it set up so that donors can pick something from an Amazon Wish List that the agencies themselves have identified as a need, and the shipping costs are zero. Sweet.
I think that people like the donation of something tangible. For diaper banks that individual small tangible donation is productive. Right now, when trying to relieve the Haitian crisis it is not.
I’m not quite sure what to do about the ongoing conversation I’m involved in regarding the donation of stuff to Haiti. I’m afraid I’m not willing to just let it go, I think it too important. I’ll deal with any perceived hypocrisy about diaper drives when it arrives.
In the meantime, I can text OXFAM to 25383 and make a $10 donation to Oxfam’s Haiti Earthquake Response Fund, identify long term agencies to donate to, actions to take and continue to plot about my closer to home issue and the Learn to Knit Diaper Bank Fundraiser that is beginning to take form.