3 minute readDisaster

How to Help (and Not Hurt) When You Donate or Volunteer

This post is cross-posted from the UPS Blog. As a long-time partner of the American Red Cross and a member of the Annual Disaster Giving Program, UPS provides both financial support of our disaster response mission, and shipping assistance to get relief supplies where they are needed, when they are needed. One of our partners at the UPS Foundation, Joe Ruiz, wrote this blog post which identifies the challenges NGOs face with unsolicited donations of goods.

Hurricane Season 2010 Pre-positioning Supplies
July 12, 2010 – American Red Cross Disaster Field Supply Center in Hattiesburg, MS. Red Cross volunteer Raymond Miller works with UPS volunteers Mellonese Lee, Vicki Bridges, Tom Scott, Trent Ward and John Williams to load pallets with cots that will be pre-positioned along the Gulf Coast.

I just returned from the annual meeting of the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) in Kansas City, just hours from Joplin, Missouri. The outpouring of support from the public has been unbelievable. But based on feedback I heard from first responders at the meeting, unsolicited donations of water, clothes and other items have significantly challenged relief efforts. One relief organization told me they have thousands of cases of water in their warehouse. The AP highlighted this issue in a story about junk donations creating problems for relief agencies helping tornado victims in Alabama.

In my role with The UPS Foundation, I receive hundreds of calls asking for UPS to ship unsolicited goods. The challenge is that these donations don’t meet the needs of the relief agencies that are helping victims. UPS does not transport collected items from unsolicited donors for relief efforts. Instead, we’ve established in-kind agreements with relief organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, CARE, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Aidmatrix Network. Our goal is provide logistics support to deliver the right items to the right place at the right time.

In 2010, UPS transported over 3 million pounds of urgent relief supplies for these agencies, and approximately $2 million in free shipping in response to disasters around the world.

When disaster strikes, compassion and concern often stir people to help. But what’s the best way to truly provide help … and not hurt relief efforts? Here’s what disaster relief agencies shared with me.

Donate Money

Financial contributions are often the best kind of donation to make. There are many relief organizations with considerable experience in areas such as clean-up, mass feeding, mass sheltering, first aid, crisis counseling, child care, home repair and pet care. When the public supports these organizations with financial donations, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the people in need after a disaster. The NVOAD offers a list of relief organizations involved in preparedness, prevention, response and recovery in the U.S at nvoad.org. To learn more about relief organizations involved in international disasters, visit interaction.org.

If Donating Goods, Verify Items Will be Accepted and Used

Before taking action, contact a relief agency to confirm what items are needed. Do not begin collecting, packing or shipping until you have a known recipient who will accept the donation. It often takes a week before first responders can assess local needs after a disaster. The Aidmatrix Network connects donors to the needs of relief agencies who respond to disasters. Agencies post their needs on the site, so donors can match them. When donors match the items in demand, either the agency or UPS will provide priority transportation. Make sure shipments of donated goods are well packed and labeled. Put yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end of the shipment and think about making the unpacking, warehousing and distribution as simple as possible. For example, list contents on the outside of the box to make it easier to sort items.

If you are collecting goods, but don’t see a match at the Aidmatrix Network, consider holding a garage sale and donating the proceeds to the agency of your choice.

For Volunteers, Take Advantage of Disaster Assistance Training

Before the next disaster strikes, sign up for training. Volunteers are encouraged to affiliate with an organization involved in disaster response and recovery. Plan to be as self-sufficient as possible. If there is a volunteer center in the area, it is an excellent source of information about opportunities to help after a disaster. Check out HandsOnNetwork.org.

The generosity and kindness of people including our own customers does a lot to help communities heal from tragic consequences of disasters. However it’s important to first coordinate the help with experienced disaster relief organizations so that people in need of help receive it in the most timely and effective manner.