By Diana Chandler
HOUSTON — Mickey Caison has seen it many times in his disaster relief career. Well-meaning folks collect a truckload of food and clothing, drive perhaps hundreds of miles to a disaster zone, but can find no place to deliver the goods.
Deciding “let’s put a trailer on the lot and fill it up with goods to take to Texas, is the most ineffective way of providing support,” Caison told Baptist Press from Houston, where he is coordinating the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) response to Hurricane Harvey’s destruction there.
“We’re actually seeing vehicles — vans, pick-ups, rental trucks, there have been 18 wheelers — that are riding around trying to find some place to give goods that they’ve collected in other places,” Caison said. “Out of the goodness of their hearts, they were moved to action in meeting needs.” But they failed to consider such details as actual needs, warehousing, distribution, and whether the same goods could be purchased locally, he said.
More effective responses include donating cash through trusted channels and providing supplies expressly requested by churches and other organizations, Caison told BP. Southern Baptists may also receive official response training in advance of disasters, allowing them to volunteer in such areas as feeding or debris removal.
Buying gift cards and bank cards that allow survivors to purchase their own choice of goods is also an option, as it gives the recipient dignity while stimulating the local economy, Caison said.
Tennessean Jeff Palmer, CEO of Southern Baptist international relief partner Baptist Global Response (BGR), based in Nashville, also recommends cash donations. He applauds the convenience and effectiveness of donation channels provided by Southern Baptists, including the Cooperative Program, disaster relief ministries of individual state conventions, the Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief Fund, and such NAMB outreaches as Send Relief.
These channels are “the best way to help if you want to give a financial contribution,” Palmer told BP.
While BGR is not an entity of the SBC, it does heartily promote and endorse the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. BGR’s partnership with Southern Baptists in meeting global human needs is fundamentally undergirded by those who give through their local churches to the CP and to the Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief fund.
It’s much more effective to buy goods near areas where a particular disaster occurred, Palmer noted, as it drastically reduces shipping costs and stimulates the local economy. Coordinating responses with Baptist partners in disaster zones improves distribution by making sure the neediest people are helped, Palmer said.
Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, agreed with his counterparts.
In Tennessee, “we saw this with the outpouring of ‘stuff’ that came to the Gatlinburg area after the fires. They had 50-plus volunteers in one receiving building for donations who spent weeks sorting and palatizing things that kept coming. Some of the items simply could not be used.”
Jones encouraged Tennessee Baptists to consider what they would want if they were in a similar situation. “Would you want someone to clean out all their unwanted stuff and give it to you or would you rather have the dignity to go to the store and purchase what you need?
“I know people’s hesitancy to give cash donations. My recommendation to you is that you check out the organizations you donate to. What is their policy in regards to donations? How long has this organization been around? How much goes to overhead, administration and advertisement to raise more funding?”
Jones added that those who want to give items, the items should be specific to the needs of the disaster. “That list needs to come from those who are there on the ground,” he stressed.
If you would like to donate to the response effort, visit http://tndisasterrelief.org/contributions/ or mail a check to TBMB DR, P.O. Box 682789, Franklin, TN, 37068. Write “Hurricane Relief” in the memo line.
— B&R Editor Lonnie Wilkey contributed to this report.