When disaster strikes, communities are often overwhelmed by a tsunami of misdirected generosity. In fact, some professional disaster responders cite unsolicited donations and swarms of untrained volunteers as the hardest part of disaster relief. Learn how you can really help during a recovery effort.
In a rush of generosity, people donate items like odd articles of clothing and perishable food that can't be used by the victims -- to the tune of 60 percent.
Unfortunately, relief agencies find that some people confuse disaster relief with an opportunity to "recycle" any old household item.
Disaster relief agencies end up spending critical time and energy clearing out wasteful donations to make room for medical supplies, food and other necessary aid.
Perhaps their hearts were in the right place, but the sex toys indicated their minds were someplace lower.
Maybe the folks who donated the broken bikes thought that fixing a bike would help the tsunami victims take their minds off of the disaster. Or maybe they didn't think at all.
After a news network reported that the feet of some rescue dogs were being burned in the hot rubble, donations of dog shoes came pouring in from pet stores, dog shoe manufacturers and dog lovers.
The idea of donating to orphaned children was so attractive that many more orphanages were built than were needed, prompting struggling parents to send their kids off to an orphanage rather than raise them at home.
When you donate money to a reputable relief agency, the organization can assist disaster victims in the most effective and efficient way possible.
Sometimes you earmark funds for something not needed at that time. Four months after the tsunami, one organization had money set aside for rice, which was no longer in short supply; it had to get permission from donors to use the money for something else. If you trust the organization, allow its employees to use the funds as they see best.
Burma lost an estimated 138,000 people in the monstrous 2008 storm — the deadliest in the region's history — but its government turned back shiploads of aid from Western countries.
This is why most disaster response specialists recommend giving money, not donations, to organizations. That way you avoid issues like donating pork to Muslims and winter coats to people in South Florida.
The plane and its medical supplies were delayed 48 hours, an eternity in a disaster response situation.
Unless relief organizations specifically request items of clothing, donations of used clothing and shoes are more of a burden than a relief. Better to send them to Goodwill.
Jars of baby food with a shelf life of at least six months are one of the few food items that are scarce in post-disaster situations.
Blood banks are often in desperate need of donations after a deadly disaster. Teddy bears, sadly enough, aren't that helpful.
As much as the church group wants to help, unsolicited volunteers often get in the way of nationally coordinated efforts. And unfortunately, unscrupulous people will take advantage of the public's generosity in the wake of a disaster, so avoid Web sites that aren't affiliated with national or international relief agencies.
Recovery from a disaster lasts far beyond the immediate swarm of media attention. In fact, relief organizations are often more in need of volunteers over the long term.
Even if your group is well-trained, disaster response specialists say that teams of unsolicited helpers mostly just get in the way. Better for you (or your group) to be linked up with a major disaster relief organization ahead of time.
Every dollar spent on disaster prep saves $7 in disaster relief, according to the World Bank. Web sites like ready.gov and redcross.org have information on how you can be prepared before a disaster strikes.
If there's one message you should take from this quiz, it's "cash is best." Money to a reputable relief agency is the best way to help the most people in the most efficient way possible.