Relief workers remind donors to give responsibly in the wake of tragedy

"I think a lot of the stuff that came into the warehouse was more for the people that sent it than it was for the people in Newtown.  At least, that’s the way it felt in the end."

On December 14, 2012, our country witnessed the worst public school shooting in U.S. history--20 young students and 6 adults lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary, leaving the nation in horror and the town of Newtown, Connecticut in unimaginable grief.


Americans had never seen such violence carried out on children so small, and many reached out from all corners of the country looking to lend a helping hand in any way they could. 

In particular, donors focused on doing what little they could to comfort the children who lost family members, friends, and their sense of safety at school.  Aid workers received bicycles, toys, sleds, and 67,000 teddy bears.

While no one would ever call the outpouring of love and support for these children anything but heart-warming and absolutely appreciated, relief workers aiding Newtown in the wake of the tragedy admit that the huge influx of toys, blankets, and other comfort items was more overwhelming than anything else.  After survivors of the incident received several of these items, much of what remained had to be donated elsewhere.

This CBS News report discusses the tendency of donors to give with their hearts instead of their heads in the aftermath of a disaster.  Sometimes our most thoughtful attempts to contribute to those affected by natural disasters, mass violence, or tragedies do more to hurt relief efforts than help.

Despite the best intentions, bombarding a disaster area with unneeded items and ignoring those that are desperately needed (like money, something we tend to view as lacking emotion) can actually make dealing with a disaster much worse. 

As we begin to assess and appreciate the scope of Hurricane Harvey’s damage, it is vital that donors seek out truly beneficial ways to help.  Tammy Shapiro, one of the organizers of relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, recommends seeking out relief supply “registries” from relief workers on the ground keeping a day-to-day record of items needed. 

But, these organizations always welcome cash donations.  Writing a check may not look or feel as meaningful as giving a teddy bear to a grieving child, but it can be transferred very quickly and funds will be used to purchase exactly what a community needs after a disaster.  In terms of speed and usefulness, money is ALWAYS effective.

If you’re considering making a gift to those affected by Harvey--whether it’s cash or items--be sure that you are donating responsibly and to reputable, trustworthy organizations.