USA–– In Tulsa on Saturday, the skies began to darken ominously. Momentary relief at the thought of rain turned to dread as ash fell from the sky, and Tulsans realized the darkness was not the result of thunderclouds promising welcome precipitation to break the triple digit heat that had been searing the state for weeks, but was instead, smoke from the wildfires burning only an hour away in Mannford. The sun shone blood red through the polluted atmosphere, and the air had a tinge of green to it, much like the atmosphere in the minutes before a tornado. For many in Oklahoma, record-breaking heat was merely the tip of the proverbial and somewhat ironic iceberg this week, as wildfires swept throughout the state, decimating more than 78,000 acres as of Sunday, and destroying many dozens of homes.
Disasters such as this have a tendency to bring out the best in a community. People want to help, they want to give and they want to make a difference. Unfortunately, that laudable desire to reach out to our fellow man and woman during their times of suffering often leads to what emergency management professionals call the second disaster. Before giving donations to help the wildfire survivors (or after other disasters), keep these things in mind:
Unsolicited giving of food, water, clothes and other supplies can have a damaging impact on a community struggling to respond and recover. It is not uncommon for a business or a church group to decide in a moment of compassion to fill up a semi and drive into the affected area with bundles of clothes, blankets, toys, and furniture, as well as food and water. The problem arises when they arrive in town unannounced, creating a logistical nightmare for the local relief agencies.
According to the American Red Cross, these unsolicited donations require relief agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing relief services to sort, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may or may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
Unsolicited donations of goods and perishable food often do not get to the people who need them. If there is no planned person or organization set to receive them, sort them, store them and distribute them, they may sit there until they rot, creating a new mess to be cleaned up by the community.
After Hurricane Katrina, generous hearts throughout the country sent donations of food, clothing, and other miscellaneous items. Unfortunately, there was no system in place to handle such a massive flow of goods, and as a result, they were not distributed.
Many of the items that arrive are not useful to the disaster survivors, such as heavy-duty winter clothes sent to people living on the Gulf Coast. In cases such as this, it is not “the thought that counts.”
Relief agencies agree that the easiest way to help is to make a donation. Financial donations are the best way to help those in need because they give flexibility to the relief agencies in acquiring the resources they need most.
When giving to a relief agency, whether financially or in goods, make sure it is a reputable, well-vetted agency who will put your donation dollars to good use, and who has a well-organized system in place for receiving, sorting, storing and distributing donated items.
To give donations to help survivors of the Oklahoma wildfires, the American Red Cross is accepting financial donations. Mail a check to American Red Cross, Dept. 995, Tulsa, OK 74182, or visit www.okredcross.org. Donors may also make a $10 donation by texting REDCROSS to 90999.
The Salvation Army is accepting donations for food, snacks, water and other hydrating beverages such as Gatorade at their warehouse at 924 S. Hudson (off 11th Street between Sheridan and Yale). To give monetary donations, visit www.disaster.salvationarmyusa.org, call 1-800-Sal-Army and designate Oklahoma wildfires, or mail to The Salvation Army, PO Box 12600, Oklahoma City, OK 73157.
To help pets displaced by the fires, the Tulsa SPCA, in cooperation with Drysdales Western Wear and the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, is collecting pet supplies for the Creek County fire victims on Aug. 7. The Mobile Adoption Center will be located at the Drysdales parking lot on 3220 S. Memorial Drive from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Financial donations can be made online at www.tulsaspca.org or mailed to Tulsa SPCA, 2910 Mohawk Blvd., Tulsa, OK 74110.
Do a little research. Find out before acting what is most needed and what system is in place for accepting and managing donations. Make sure your thoughts–and your donations–count.