With the horrific damage just starting to unfold from Hurricane Harvey, many people will set up donation centers for clothes, shoes, toiletries. Not a good idea.
The number one thing is, “Don’t send your used shoes.”
Compassionate people plus tough and tragic situations equal a desire to do something, anything, to relieve suffering. So we ask, “How can I help?”
There’s plenty of suffering to go around. From people who have lost family, homes and possessions from the recent hurricane and flooding in Houston to mass near starvation of Syrian refugees to the average, everyday angst that afflicts most everyone–well, we’re just not going to run out of instances that birth the impulse to help.
Where to start?
Here’s a suggestion: don’t send used shoes (or piles of unwanted clothes or boxes of hotel-sized toiletries). Really. Don’t do this. It makes things worse.
One veteran aid worker, pleading for a monetary response to a disaster in the Philippines, wrote about her experiences after the tsunami that hit South Asia in 2004:
“ . . . well-intentioned people cleaned out their closets, sending boxes of ‘any old shoes’ and other clothing to the countries. . . . Heaps of them were left lying on the side of the road. Cattle began picking at them and getting sick. Civil servants had to divert their limited time to eliminating the unwanted clothes. . . . Boxes filled with Santa costumes, 4-inch high heels, and cocktail dresses landed in tsunami-affected areas. In some places, open tubes of Neosporin, Preparation H, and Viagra showed up. The aid community has coined a term for these items that get shipped from people’s closets and medicine cabinets as SWEDOW—Stuff We Don’t Want.”
But we do want to help.
In doing so, we often make things worse. Too many pre-manufactured goods, too many well-intentioned volunteer mission teams, too many shipments of shoes can decimate already seriously wounded economies in nations or communities trying to recover from natural disasters. Too many unexamined motives for rescuing other human beings, too much ignorance about human nature, too much arrogance about our abilities to change the world–and we end up making things much worse.
I can’t fix the people who are going to suffer unimaginable loss in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I can’t rebuild their houses or bring back to life their dead or find the lost or even wring out their wet carpets. But I can make sure I don’t send shoes and the clothes I no longer want and do make helpful donations.
That means money. Cash. UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) does very effective work. The Red Cross is already on site. Go to your local blood bank and offer some of that life-giving substance.
Let’s be helpful, not hurtful, in our responses here. Those emergency responders don’t need a bundle of well-meaning but untrained people showing up right now with trucks full of donated items. They do need funds so those displaced may purchase immediate needs, including shoes, new clothes that fit, and fresh toiletries of their own choosing.
When it comes time to rebuild, encourage contractors to hire locally so those hurt by the storms can bring in paychecks to start rebuilding their lives. Too much donated labor can hurt much more than help.
Let’s offer those stunned by loss the basic human dignity of funds and choice to get what they need and get back on their feet again. Our discards and other unwanted items have no place here.
They need real help. Read this for a harrowing first person reporter’s account of what is happening Sunday morning.