When we hear that fellow humans in faraway places are suffering, we want to help. Some of us write a check, sign in to PayPal, or make a donation using our phones. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sending tangible goods to people in need. The problem is that well-meaning people can waste resources and time on the ground in the disaster area by sending inappropriate items that will ultimately end up in the dump.
Jose Holguin-Veras is a professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York who studies disaster relief. He says that useless or inappropriate items take up about 60% of the cargo space in shipments destined for disaster-stricken areas. How inappropriate can these items be? Here’s a greatest hits list.
Just from items sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake:
- Refrigerators using the wrong voltage. (People used them as tables.)
- Winter coats.
- Red Bull and potato chips.
- A planeload of toys.
- A case of Viagra.
And the famous sex toys, sent to help the victims of Hurricane Charley in 2004. Holguin-Veras says that donations of useful items, like clothing, food, and water, can be problematic: random clothing donations take time to sort and many have to be trashed anyway, and shipping food and water from faraway places can squeeze out local providers who do have the needed inventory.
His advice: hold a clothing drive if you really want to, but then have a rummage sale and send the cash.
Sex Toys, Winter Coats, And Spanish Flags: The Uselessness Of Post-Disaster Donations [Fast Company Co.Exist] (via All Over Albany)