A donations food drive feels like a real way to support people in need. Donating cash at a checkout line, or on a website doesn’t usually give that same feeling. In contrast, it feels depersonalized, uncertain. Where’s the money go from there- what’s the impact? Where’s the feeling of solidarity and support?
Collecting donations is something real. It feels like you are already making a difference. This past holiday season my employer did this, and the pyramid of cans that we collected was a visible, in your face display of our solidarity with those who needed that food. The can drive collected food to donate to a nonprofit that handles the logistics of distributing it to a flooded community. It was a great team project, it brought us together, and it felt like we were helping this community. Over the course of a couple weeks, we pilfered our own pantries, cleaned the shelves of the surrounded supermarkets- drove all those cans back to the office and lugged them to the 3rd floor where we made a pyramid of them. You could see this monument to charity before your eyes.
Beyond our office- what was the impact in the flooded community ? We can’t say for sure, but we do know what happens to a flooded neighborhood. Perhaps no water or power, kitchens largely out of commission, people living in hotels or shelters or out of their car- and those in greatest need lacking the ability to cook and prepare food. Even not in a disaster, cans are usually only a small part of the food source for families. The greatest problem- we don’t really know what happened to the food we donated and if our goal was not just to come together as a company, but to impact a flood-stricken community- then we should care as much about the cans as much as the cash.
In the months after a disaster, interviews with surivors relay a common response: somewhere in that flooded community was a warehouse full of cans- perhaps still is. It’s called the “second disaster” to those in the disaster recovery community- the challenge of making well-intentioned donations available and useable to the community.
The point is that we have to differentiate between feel-good projects, and those which make a difference. Mayne we can zero in on other goods that are essential. Like diapers, medicine, tarps. Maybe outsiders have no idea what that “short list” of useable donations is, on any given day. That sort of analysis would best be conducted in the locality.
This, then, provides a useful intersection of the survivors and the supporters. Survivors provide the analysis, the certainty of what the feel-good support project ought to be- and the supporters do the can drive. Or the diaper drive. Or whatever the case may be. Here there are two issues:
- Efficiency- get the rights resources to the right place at the right time, with the right distribution and support.
- The Story- give supporters a reason to support. An understanding of what the other person is going through and why a diaper drive has such an impact to that community. You can’t do this with numbers alone. Something as tangible as a pyramid of canned goods.
Sometimes cash is the better donation- it supports the community’s ability to decide for itself what needs are most urgently met. Sometimes those needs can’t be met with cash- and well-intentioned volunteers should be ready to listen for those requests- for time, labor, and other resources they may be able to provide.