Don’t Bother Trying to Help

When disasters like Hurricane Katrina happen, I always feel so helpless. I feel like there is not much I can do besides sit home and watch the news and donate to the American Red Cross. This makes me feel guilty that I don’t make more of an effort to help.
But when I heard that a thousand evacuees were on their way to Denver to stay in dorms in Lowry, I felt there was something I could do. Here are victims of this disaster right in my city’s backyard.
By watching the news I understood that food and clothing were not a problem. But perhaps they could use something else? They will be there for several months, I’m sure. I don’t think they will have jobs during that time. So, how about something to do? My wife owns a used bookstore. She has overstock. So we decided to load my car up with books and get them to the people arriving at Lowry.
By scanning the news stories online, I read that calling 211 was the next step. I called. I found out that 211 is pretty useless. All they do is give you numbers of charitable organizations that can help. I could have used the phone book for that and saved myself 20 minutes of busy signals and ‘please hold’ recordings.
Then, the three numbers I was given were wrong. The first didn’t answer. The second told me that they didn’t have anything to do with the situation and the third number didn’t work.
One news story told me to call the Salvation Army. I did, and was told to use their regular drop-off points. But I don’t want these books to sit in a warehouse for months and then go on sale in some charity store. I want to make sure that they get to the people at Lowry.
So I drove over to Lowry with 500 books in the back of my truck. I had no problem finding the dorms where the evacuees were staying. It was marked clearly by the presence of a few dozen national guard soldiers. They wore camouflage uniforms, I guess to make it harder for us to find them.
Then the run-around started. I talked to several people, all either national guard or Aurora police. Most were friendly, though some seemed a bit annoyed. Each told me to go to another location in Lowry. So I drove, and asked, and drove, and asked, and drove and asked. This for about 45 minutes.
I was finally told by a soldier that they were not accepting any more donations, but that a Salvation Army truck was parked a few blocks away where I could drop stuff off. I found that truck after stopping and asking again.
The truck sat in the middle of an unused parking lot somewhere in Lowry. No one was there, except for other people like me who were looking to donate.
Most of us thought that while we probably could load up the abandoned Salvation Army truck with our stuff, that it would probably not make it into the hands of the people coming to stay at Lowry. Some decided not to leave their items but find somewhere else to go.
One couple brought a whole computer for the evacuees to use. Another brought a stack of diapers. Neither of them felt that leaving the items in the truck made sense.
I was hot and tired, so I loaded the 500 books onto the truck.
I now regret that decision. I’m almost positive that the books will not end up in the hands of the evacuees. They will probably get tons of food and clothing and then someone will remark that they wish some books had been donated. Meanwhile, the books will sit on the truck, and then in a warehouse, and then in a store where they will be sold to buy more trucks and gas to haul away the next set of donations.
Next time disaster strikes and people need help, I think I may just stay in front of the TV and give to the American Red Cross. Only from now on I won’t feel as guilty about not doing more.

By the way, I can probably get a few hundred more books to donate if someone could give me a direct way to get them in the hands of the evacuees.

Posted on September 5, 2005 at 4:10 pm by Gary Rosenzweig · Permalink
In: General

2 Responses

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  1. Written by JP
    on 9/6/2005 at 2:36 pm
    Permalink

    I understand. The local donation points here were so overwhelmed in the first two days, that a 35-trackor trailor truck caravan was nowhere near enough storage to bring everything down from up here near Canada (northeast US). Another run will need to be made, and they are no longer accepting donations.

    I suggested that my wife instead drop off the items to the Salvation Army (we also donated cash to Red Cross). Often times in major events (like the Tsunami), people so focus their attention towards one place that the donations fall off the rest of the year and help centers have trouble taking care of their “regular” mission (ie: homeless or troubled families located elswhere in the US). Donate your items to the Salvation Army (or other org) and feel good that you are helping pick up the inevitable slack that is to come once the TV stations focus on other events later in the year.

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