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Managing the 'Disaster After the Disaster'

What do we do now to deal with unintended consequences of post-hurricane generosity?

You’ve probably been asked by out-of-state friends where to send Hurricane Sandy donations and what kind? It’s a daunting task to advise people when you’re in the midst of a crisis, but as the Associated Press reported, unwanted donations can become a “disaster after the disaster.”

“Ad hoc relief groups need to make sure they are taking in only items that are requested and can be distributed. Money is the best because organizations don't have to pay to move it and can tailor spending to changing needs,” James McGowan, a representative from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster reportedly told AP.

I saw this problem firsthand after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks when I volunteered with the Salvation Army. I was assigned to a packed warehouse in Bayonne, New Jersey, where the job was to divert excess donations to non-profits that could use them. I established quite a collection of t-shirts and Police Benevolent Association cards that were offered in exchange for sometimes valuable donations (like bullet-proof kevlar vests).

The moral of this story is that cash is often best, but donating money comes with its own set of challenges. The American Red Cross, for example, has reportedly raised $131 million for Sandy relief as of November 13. Fair or not, the organization is currently under fire for spending $181,000 to house volunteers at a swanky Manhattan hotel. This kind of criticism is not new. As AP reported, the Red Cross was criticized for its response to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, but says it has learned from its mistakes.

"People have been giving without finding out first what a group's capacity is to actually deliver services," Ben Smilowitz, head of the Disaster Accountability Project, told Reuters.

As out-of-state inquiries flooded my inboxes, I initially advised people to donate to the Red Cross. Then I advised them to donate to a Hilton Honors initiative, not only because I’m a Hilton Honors member and appreciated the offer of HH points and matching donations, but also because the staff at the Hilton Garden Inn on Route 70 in Lakewood was amazing in the week after the storm. They offered free wi-fi and food to whoever showed up, worked tirelessly, and gave up rooms of their own to homeless families. They were sleeping on air-mattresses on the office floor, one young woman told me in between acts of hospitality like offering hot chocolate to lobby dwellers.

As local efforts kicked into high gear, I began telling friends to donate to initiatives launched by people I know and trust. My sister-in-law, for example, organized a Restore the Shore benefit concert for November 28 in Sarasota, Florida, and Abounding Grace Ministries, which has been doing work in lower Manhattan for more than 30 years, launched Grace in the Storm to assist New Yorkers.

High school classmates in Point Pleasant Beach held the most impressive clothing drive I’ve ever seen and the Police Athletic League in Brick became a feeding and distribution center. These last two efforts were quickly overwhelmed and stopped accepting donations of clothing and canned food. That’s a great problem to have, as is figuring out how to advise friends and family who want to give. So, I'm curious: where have you been telling loved ones to direct their donations and what kinds of post-hurricane disasters have you seen emerge from the outpouring of generosity?

Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I WONDER ABOUT THE WASTED DONATIONS. I WONDER BECAUSE EVERYONE KEEPS SAYING TO GIVE TO RED CROSS? I DON'T KNOW.. I TRIED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE RED CROSS DOES TO HELP? I STILL CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT.
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 11:09 PM
CONTINUED.......................... I BELIEVE THAT THEY GO IN WITH SOME PEOPLE (NOT ENOUGH), AND SEND THEM WITH LITTLE RED COBBLERS ON, OR SOMETHING. THEY GIVE A HYGENE KIT AND SOME WATER AND MAYBE A VERY SMALL BIT OF FOOD. THIS IS ACCORDING TO COMMENTS FROM SOMEONE TRYING TO CLEAR OUT, DIRT, MUD, GOOK, AND EVERYTHING FROM THEIR PLACE WHICH WAS LOST LOST. THEY COME IN AND ASK IF YOU NEED ANYTHING, BUT THEN LEAVE. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY AREN'T GOING TO HELP WITH CLEAN UP AND REBUILDING, YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, IF AFTER DEDUCTIBLE YOU HAVE ENOUGH INSURANCE MONEY LEFT TO BUY A CAN OF PAINT. A FEW OTHERS SAID THAT THEY (RC) WERE SUPPOSED TO SUPPLY PORTA-POTTIES, BUT THAT THEY HADN'T SEEN ANY.
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 11:09 PM
CONTINUED........................THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRUE. SOMEONE ELSE SAID THAT THEY STOPPED BY, ASKED IF ANYTHING WAS NEEDED, AND THE COUPLE ASKED FOR WATER, HAVING BEEN SO PARCHED AND HAVING NOTHING TO DRINK AFTER HAVING FINISHED WHAT THEY BROUGHT LOTS EARLIER. THE RC PERSON SAID HE ONLY HAD THE WATER HE WAS DRINKING, BUT THAT THEY WERE WELCOME TO SOME OF IT? IS THIS REAL? DOES ANYONE KNOW ANYONE ELSE WHO ACTUALLY WORKS FOR THE RED CROSS, AND WHAT THEIR MISSION IS IN HELPING. I TRIED TO READ THE RED CROSS PAGES ON INTERNET. I DON'T FIND ANYTHING THAT THEY DO COMMESURATES TO WHAT THEY COLLECT? WHAT'S THE DEAL. IF A FEW OF THE POSTERS WILL TRY, SEE IF THEY CAN JOIN BY INTERNET OR PHONE AND FIND OUT WHAT THEY WOULD NEED TO DO. I HEARD ANOTHER PERSON SAY THEY WANTED TO VOLUNTEER WITH THEM AND THEY WERE DENIED...LET'S CHECK IT OUT. THE MONEY SHOULD PROBABLY GO TO CHURCHES IN EACH TOWN WHO CAN DOLE OUT THE MONEY EVENLY TO ALL FOR CLEAN UP AND REBUILD. LIKE MAYBE THE CHURCH CAN DELEGATE SOMEONE WHO CAN GO TO LUMBER STORES, ETC. IT' DIFFICULT TO DECIDE. BY THE WAY. I AGREE ABOUT CLEANING UP INDIVIUALS PLACES AND GETTING THEM GOING AGAIN, BUT THE ONLY REASON THAT PERSON MUST HAVE MENTIONED THE BOARDWALK, BADGES AND ALL THAT, IS BECAUSE THAT IS THE WAY THE TOWN STAYS A COMMUNITY TOO, SO THEY NEED THAT. BUT IT DOESN'T COME FIRST. AND YES, THAT AREA THE PEOPLE OF THE COMMUNITY CAN DO THAT AFTER THEIR FELLOW MEN HAVE ROOF'S OVER THEIR HEADS.
chattsworth November 18, 2012 at 11:44 PM
So stupid. The boardwalk is the town's responsibility. I don't understand why, if you need water or food etc, you don't go to the store and buy it. The help that's really needed is manpower on the barrier island going house to house pulling out all the debris that is all over the place. If people are in shelters that's one thing but that's not the majority of the people. The rest of us need to donate our muscles when they let us go over the bridge to help our brothers and sisters with the clean up. The Red Cross doesn't do all that much to help. We need people who are willing to donate their time to help rip out carpets and sheetrock and get down and dirty. That's what we need. The town can worry about the badge stand. As for me, I'll help my neighbors and strangers who need it.
WMS826 November 19, 2012 at 01:49 AM
How selfish you are to ask for donations to build a badge booth. Why should I finance my own exclusion from you community.
Christopher Koutsouris November 19, 2012 at 02:31 AM
http://www.njhometownheroes.org/ Hometown Heroes guys! They have helped our community before the storm and have been amazing after. Their dollars stay here and, importantly for me, they will be here in Ocean County long after the sensationalism dies down.
MyOpinion November 19, 2012 at 10:33 AM
How different is restoring the Chadwick Beach Boardwalk compared to Restoring the Seaside Heights Boardwalk?? Ive lived in Ocean County all my life, and you are Blasting this person because they want to fix their Beach?? Helloooooooooo we are asking to fix Seaside Heights!!! duhhhhh... Get a Grip! Yes, People come first, I get that but if you even listen to the News or Read the sites the DONATIONS for the PEOPLE are being STOPPED because there is TOO MUCH and they don't need more nor can the store anymore. There is no room.. So why cant we think about restoring Boardwalk and Beaches???
MyOpinion November 19, 2012 at 10:39 AM
Oh an also if you Read the Chadwick Beach Link... It states... Fund proceeds from events, donations & apparel sales will be used to help local families & fund beach projects... So Yes it is helping their people as well as beach projections
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 10:42 AM
There are so many problems with everything. We can't go help, cause they won't let more than a few people go to 1 home at a time. Which messes up what is most needed, AS CHATTSWORTH describes. People who can move the debris, clean up, buy cleaning supplies, etc. I would do whatever I could too, but no way to get around. Who will drive people around to get there, then not be let in, or get there and only be able to work for a little while, and leave. It's almost impossible. With no electric, no bathrooms, it's just all messed up.
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 10:46 AM
because people need homes first, or their homes rebuilt. After the local gentry of any town are taken care of, then it will be next to do. Then they can get the beaches ready again. BUT THE PEOPLE HAVE TO BE CARED FOR FIRST. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS DONATIONS BEING STOPPED. MAYBE DONATIONS OF CLOTHING AND SUCH, BUT NOT MONETARY DONATIONS, THOSE DONATIONS ARE BADLY NEEDED. BUT I DON'T THINK THE RED CROSS IS GONNA DO MUCH. GIVE YOU A HALF BOTTLE OF WATER MAYBE, AND A SNACK. THAT'S WHAT I HEAR. TRUE OR NOT, I DON'T KNOW. I NEVER SAW ANYONE FROM THERE WHEN I WAS AT MY SON'S PLACE. THEY DIDN'T COME AROUND THE WHOLE TIME WE WERE THERE.
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 10:53 AM
IF YOU READ THIS, YOU MIGHT JUST UNDERSTAND. BUT, SOME WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND. http://brick.patch.com/articles/a-storm-refugee-looks-back-on-hurricane-sandy
Toms River Schools Communications November 19, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Toms River Regional Schools is running the People's Pantry with volunteers. Storm victims can get food, clothing, cleaning supplies and more. It's all free. Visit the People's Pantry on Facebook for more information.
WhyohWhy November 19, 2012 at 02:15 PM
If you are going to donate money please do not give it to the Red Cross...it does NOT go immediately to the Sandy victims, there is a ton of red tape and after maybe they will see it. GIVE $$ and Gift CARD DONATIONS TO YOUR LOCAL shelters and LOCAL Food Banks so that it can be distributed to the people who need it directly. Don't line the CEO's of the Red Crosses pockets even more, you would be sick to see how much these guys get paid to delegate where donations go.
Friends of Brick November 19, 2012 at 03:34 PM
My name is Diane Hart and I run a charity called Friends of Brick. We are a 501c3 charity that specifcally helps the residents of Brick Township. If you would like to donate to Brick residents specifically, we currently need non perisable food, new toys for Christmas, gift cards for stores that do not sell liquor, cleaning supplies and monetary donations. We are full of clothes at this time. We are on Facebook and at www.friendsofbrick.org. Also-please tell any Brick family about us so we can get supplies out to them.
WhyohWhy November 19, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Great... these are the kinds of Charities you should be donating to... Remember Charity starts at home in your own home town. Not some BIG corporation where donations go FIRST to pay CEO salaries to the tune of 1 Mil a year!!!
Irina November 19, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Geeze I thought I heard it all. Tell your town officials to put in insurance claims or go to FEMA. "boardwalk, badge booth, benches, bike racks, flag pole" RIDICILIUS!...THE PEOPLE NEED TO COME FIRST.
Nina November 19, 2012 at 05:30 PM
There's are clothing items, house cleaning items, baby diapers, bedding, shoes, for every age at the church of visitation on mantiloking rd in bricktown. Someone asked about baby items, I helped unload a truck the other day and they have a room full, go there.
Nina November 19, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Also, you guys should stop arguing, and go volunteer. Who's gonna hand out all these donations and help unload and organize them? Visitation church needs volunteers today all day until 10pm.
Don Lombardi November 19, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Jay, for starters, please turn off your "CAPS" switch. We don't need "shouting" on this site. As to yourI 'WONDER ABOUT THE WASTED DONATIONS" I guess you have never really what the Red Cross stands, what they do and why they do it. Maybe you should "google" Red Cross on your computer. You will finds tons of infor, some positive stuff and some negative. What you heard or read about the Red Cross and their paying some posh hotels to house needy folks (victims of Randy, the hurricane) is an exampe of one negative finding/opinion. Can you even think about something POSITIVE connected with the Red Cross? Maybe it's just ignorance on your part. If you really want to do something CONSTRUCTIVE/POSITIVE, volunteer to help with the destruction of lives and property wrought by Randy the Hurricane. If you can't do that, trying a small donation of $10 to the Red Cross. Happy Thanksgiving! We really have a great deal to be thankful for this year.
Don Lombardi November 19, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Again I ask, please turn off your CAPS lock. It makes you look foolish. This recent comment really shouts about your ignorance, disrespect and disregard for the suffering and devastation the rest of us experienced and are still experiencing. I can tell from what you're saying that you were not personally affected by Randy the Hurricane. So your distorted, unsupported, lunacy is showing. Your ranting and raving is inappropriate and totally unnecessary. I am now flagging your remarks ... each and every one of them. Please find another outlet for your ridiculous vitriol.
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Don Lombardi also commented on Managing the 'Disaster After the Disaster'. "Jay, for starters, please turn off your "CAPS" switch. We don't need "shouting" on this site. As to yourI 'WONDER ABOUT THE WASTED DONATIONS" I guess you have never really what the Red Cross stands, what they do and why they do it. Maybe you should "google" Red Cross on your computer. You will finds tons of infor, some positive stuff and some negative. What you heard or read about the Red Cross and their paying some posh hotels to house needy folks (victims of Randy, the hurricane) is an exampe of one negative finding/opinion. Can you even think about something POSITIVE connected with the Red Cross? Maybe it's just ignorance on your part. If you really want to do something CONSTRUCTIVE/POSITIVE, volunteer to help with the destruction of lives and property wrought by Randy the Hurricane. If you can't do that, trying a small donation of $10 to the Red Cross. Happy Thanksgiving! We really have a great deal to be thankful for this year." READ CONTINUED BELOW........PLEASE...MY CAPS ARE FOR MY EYESIGHT, WHY IS IT YOU ARE THE ONLY COMPLAINER....HOW STUPID....
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 07:00 PM
THIS WAS SENT TO MY EMAIL AS A NOTIFICATION UPDATE, WHEN I ATTEMPTED TO RESPOND, I DID NOT FIND THE COMMENT ON PAGE, SO WHOMEVER YOU ARE WHO MADE THE ABOVE STATEMENTS........ ........................YOU ARE BENEATH RESPONSE.....AND RIGHT NOW I'M LOOKING FOR INFORMATION TO FORWARD TO THOSE IN NEED ABOUT WHERE TO GO TO OBTAIN SOME SORELY NEEDED INFORMATION ABOUT WHERE TO GET IMMEDIATE HELP. AT THE ONSET OF THIS TERRIBLE STORM AND RIGHT AFTER, I ASKED MANY TO GIVE TO RED CROSS. I'VE SINCE LEARNED THAT THAT WASN'T A GOOD IDEA FOR THE IMMEDIATE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH THE SITUATIONS PEOPLE FIND THEMSELVES IN AT THIS TIME. GREAT THANKSGIVING? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND. MAYBE SOME PEOPLE CAN BE THANKFUL THAT THEY LEARNED SOONER THAN LATER THAT RC IS NOT WHAT IT PORTENDS, PRETENDS, AND THAT POCKETS ARE HEAVILY LINED. I DID NOT READ ABOUT THE HOTEL CRAP YOU MENTION, BUT GLAD YOU DID. NOW WE KNOW MORE! MANY WILL BE IN THE MUCK AND GRIME OF THE RUBBLE OF WHAT WAS THEIR LIFE HERE ON THIS EARTH...........SO STUFF YOUR MUCKING TURKEY BEBE. SAVE YOUR RESPONSES FOR FOOLS. HEY, THOUGHT THIS WAS AMERICAN. YOUR THE ONE WHO IS BEING DISRESPECTFUL....WHO ARE YOU TO MAKE THE STATEMENTS YOU ARE MAKING. I HAVE READ RED CROSS PAGES OVER AND OVER. STILL CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY DO...WHO ARE YOU PROTECTING????
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I THINK IT'S ABOUT TIME WE LOOK INTO PATCH, NOW DON'T YOU? WHO'S RUNNING THE SHOW? I DON'T LIKE THE THREAT. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO I AM, NOR DO YOU KNOW I JUST LOVE INVESTIGATING.....OH, AND BY THE WAY, YOU'D LOSE ON THE BET THAT I'M NOT ONE OF THE AFFECTED FAMILIES.
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 07:06 PM
WHO'S RANDY?
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 07:16 PM
NINA, I THINK DON LOMBARDI MISSED, OR MISREAD YOUR POST!
Jay Gee November 19, 2012 at 07:19 PM
WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHO RANDY IS?
WMS826 November 19, 2012 at 07:31 PM
It's not anyone's responsibility to restore any boardwalk They are all for profit in seaside or point beach and the only people who benefit from them is rental property owners as we as those who run the boardwalk. In Chadwick let your association pay for it.
Fred November 20, 2012 at 02:02 AM
I think I'd win the bet that you are a complete moron, drowned in self pity. Get off your soap box already and stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are a lot of people out here who took the blows and accept it. Grow up!
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