A haze that can surround disaster relief
When a monster storm like Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Hugo levels houses, disrupts power and floods towns, local and state officials have serious, sometimes life-and-death, problems to fix as quickly as possible.
It is no surprise when they aren’t prepared to manage the food, clothing, flashlights, diapers and batteries that arrive by the train carload from caring communities.
But not being prepared can hurt people who are already reeling. Those who have lost everything need clean clothes. They need food for their families and diapers for their babies. But they don’t have the cash to pay for things or even a way to get to a store that’s still open for business.
They find comfort in knowing other communities are concerned and ready to help.
From the other end, those sending assistance need to be confident that their donations have provided the relief they intended, if they are ever to offer help again.
Unfortunately, generous people in the Lowcountry who sent up to five traincars of assistance to Sandy victims do not know whether it was delivered or whether it did any good.
Last week, New Jersey officials moved to temporarily bar one charitable organization from soliciting any more Sandy relief. The organization must place about $631,000 of gifts into an attorney’s escrow account. And its directors must deposit $13,596 that New Jersey officials say was transferred from the donations into their personal accounts.
That organization is still being investigated, and no connection to Charleston’s gifts has been documented. But the situation recommends some disaster measures for other communities.
■ Designate an agency or department to coordinate donations and volunteers, and make sure people know it is in charge.
■ Acknowledge gifts. Most donors give to help, not to be thanked. But an acknowledgment lets them know their donations arrived at the right place.
■ Communicate clearly about what the stricken community needs and doesn’t need. Maybe it’s bottled water, not clothes. Maybe it’s simply some strong backs or some money.
■ Make sure people know they can donate through established organizations like the Red Cross, which have the experience and muscle to ensure donated money helps victims.
It is heartening that human nature inspires so many people to want to help people in need. Communities that prepare for kindness as well as trouble improve the odds of victims receiving the help they need.