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Avoiding the ‘Second Disaster’ – The Innovative Way that Occupy Sandy Escaped from Drowning in Donations

Jan 18, 2013

I’ll admit it – you can enroll me in NPRAA.

National Public Radio Addicts Anonymous.

I was on my typical evening commute from the office, listening to NPR’s All Things Considered as usual, and ended up getting sucked into a story about how some charities are having to TURN AWAY donations. I was stunned to hear that many charities, especially organizations that respond to national disasters, get so overwhelmed by donations that they have to say ‘No.’

Obviously, the response of the public for their neighbors in need is something to smile about; however, too many people send items that aren’t needed. The organizations prefer cash, which can then be used to purchase the necessary materials needed to respond to the recovery efforts.

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However, many donors just send clothing and other items because they think they can be used in some way (somehow, the American Red Cross ended up with a box of Frisbees).

In my opinion, some donors just see the situation as a reason to clean out their closets, all while feeling good about their decision to discard an item or two by connecting it with an urgent cause. Others want to provide items instead of money because they are skeptical of the charity and don’t want their hard-earned dollars to go misused.

I was even more surprised to hear that these piles of un-needed donations prevent needed supplies from getting to their destination on time. The story described a plane with water and food items that had to be diverted to an airport much further because the tarmac at the original airport was filled with clothes. Those supplies took an extra two days to be delivered to their final destination.

So with all of these donations flowing in, how can a responding organization avoid the ‘second disaster’? One member of Occupy Sandy, the response effort to Hurricane Sandy that stands as an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, became an innovator when he swiped up a laptop, began an Amazon registry for the effort and listed the items needed in the effort toward recovery.

Diapers and cleaning supplies were listed. Clothes weren’t.

Donors were told that they could not send in individual items. Instead, they were directed toward the registry and told to provide the necessary funding for a concrete item needed in the effort.

And the effort worked. Occupy received all of their necessary supplies (including generators), and cut down drastically on the amount of junk by catering to their donors’ needs – the need to provide concrete assistance.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little out-of-the-box thinking to come up with the solution for a pressing problem.

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