Want to help the Philippines? Give unrestricted cash | 

Boston Big Picture

Another major disaster strikes and do-gooders rush to help however they can. It is one of the most endearing qualities about humanity, but sometimes your instincts fail you. The compulsion to help can be good, but it is only effective if done right.

With disasters, the best way to help people is to donate cash. Not just money, but donate money that is unrestricted. So, keep your unused clothes in your closet and don’t think about volunteering.

Relief agencies need money to pay for the staff, services and provisions that will help people in need. With cash, they can purchase exactly what they need for the best price possible. Yes, people need food and blankets, but what you send may not be appropriate for someone living in an emergency shelter on the other side of the world.

Same goes for medical supplies, shoes, and bras (yes, there are charities that collect them).

Aid workers compete by telling stories about their craziest experiences. Tales of unnecessary things sent to disaster areas is one of the most spirited categories. From expired medicine to wooden crosses, the stories all feature examples of airplanes full of things that end up as exported trash during a time of confusion and limited resources.

You may have some things in your closet, like an old sweatshirt, that you don’t use anymore. That’s nice, but donate it to the local goodwill store, not your church emergency effort. There are too many stories of items flooding into post-disaster situations that take up space, go bad and are thrown out. Continue reading

World Vision under fire for NFL “loser” clothing donations | 

It may sound like a nice enough thing to do, but a lot of folks think it’s actually harmful and even immoral.

Donating clothing.

Flickr, americanistadechiapas

Super Bowl 2011

Ever wonder what happens to all those Super Bowl “champions” shirts and hats that are printed up in advance, but for the losing team? In America, probably only folks in places with an excessive tendency towards self-deprecation (like some of the wetter corners of the nordically infested neighborhoods in Seattle) would want to wear loser sports gear.

Given this, World Vision for the past 15 years has been collecting this loser gear left over from the Super Bowl and (according to its website) distributing it to people in poor countries:

World Vision identifies countries and communities in need overseas who will benefit from the gear. This year’s unused Super Bowl merchandise will make its way to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania in the months to come. On average, this equates to about 100 pallets annually — $2 million worth of product — or about 100,000 articles of clothing that, instead of being destroyed, will help children and adults in need.

So don’t be surprised if you see lots of folks in southern Africa, eastern Europe or Central America mistakenly believing the Pittsburgh Steelers won.

As nice, or maybe slightly bizarre but well-intended, as this may sound, many people have a problem with it. If you’re not familiar with the long-running critique of what’s wrong with donating clothing, take a look at this Time magazine story about the 1 Million T-shirts campaign.

Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions Are Not Enough says poor people don’t want or usually need donated clothing. They have clothing. Continue reading