Money most needed gift during disaster

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some Americans must think hurricane victims need high heels or that people facing famine due to drought might appreciate a parka.

Those are just a couple of the goodhearted but misguided donations offered when disaster has struck.

In an effort to clear up misconceptions, an international disaster assistance coalition just released new guidelines to educate Americans about donating suitable materials and assisting disaster victims.

Jim Bishop, of the Washington-based group InterAction, said the guidelines were changed because people sometimes hinder relief efforts in their attempts to help.

''Appropriate giving is a minefield if it's not done right,'' said Neil Frame of Operation USA in Los Angeles. ''You don't want your disaster response to be part of the disaster.''

Frame said the most inappropriate items people can send are food, clothing and their personal medicine. He said people have sent, or tried to send, expired antibiotics, avocados to Mexico City and T-shirts to people in blizzard-stricken countries.

Cash is best because it can be used for anything, the groups say. It's also efficient and it supports the economies of disaster-stricken areas. And cash doesn't require transportation or cause cultural, environmental or dietary problems.

''A lot of people think giving cash donations is cold,'' said Suzanne Brooks of Volunteers in Technical Assistance in Arlington, Va. ''They get caught up in their emotions. It makes them feel better, but that is not necessarily the best thing for the disaster victims.''

InterAction, the nation's largest coalition of relief, development and refugee agencies, includes the American Red Cross and CARE. The 160 members have to follow criteria about what the cash will spent on.

The guidelines, which are on InterAction's Web site, recommend that if people still choose to donate materials, they should contact an established relief organization before collecting anything. The Web site also suggests different uses for donated goods, such as giving materials to local charities operating in non-crisis areas, or having yard sales and donating the proceeds to a disaster relief organization.

''It's not that the process has gone askew; we are just trying to rebuild it,'' said Bishop. ''The American public is very generous. We want to help people shape their response so it is the most effective possible.''

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