After nearly three weeks of exhausting non-stop effort with a Texas based non-profit I know a lot now that I didn’t know before. Like many, I’ve learned some things about personal preparedness for potential disasters, and about the folly of relying on “government” to save us in the event of a catastrophe. What I’ve really learned, though, is how to “give” – and how not to give. How to give in a way that is useful and helpful to those in need. How to give in a way that is purposeful.  How to recognize when the giving serves only to make the giver feel good, often at the expense of doing actual and practical good. Some of these things I knew intellectually, but now I know bone deep. Some things I didn’t really know at all, until I was in the middle of it all.  I invite you to learn what I learned, without the hours of sweat and tears and frustration and exhaustion. Come along….
Charities ask for money first, and then maybe goods. Some ask for just money.
Writing a check, or dropping off a $20 dollar bill, doesn’t feel very satisfying – to the giver. You likely feel a compulsion to give a gift that feels more personal and thoughtful and “hands-on”.  
As Katrina approached we asked for money – but if you needed the satisfaction of hands-on giving we offered a list of useful items.
Work gloves, flashlights, bottled water, institutional size canned goods, etc. These were items that experience told us would be helpful in the areas affected by the hurricane. Unfortunately, by the time you or your group purchased and delivered these items we knew that help was now needed in local shelters housing evacuees.
The list of items changed – toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, new socks and underwear. Unfortunately by the time you or your group purchased and delivered these items we knew that many evacuees were staying in, or moving into, homes and apartments.
The list of needed items changed again. Groceries, household supplies, dishes, small appliances. Unfortunately, by the time you purchased and delivered these items we were facing requests for help with extended rent payments, or gas money, or payment for prescription medications.
Cash is nimble and agile and flexible – it can meet whatever need is present; at the time it is present.

Feeling good about that shopping spree at Target or K-Mart to stock up on toothpaste? A cash contribution would have allowed the charity of your choice to buy toothpaste, in bulk, at wholesale prices. A whole lot more bang for the buck than you got at the retail store. And if toothpaste was no longer a pressing need that cash contribution might have turned into toilet paper or toasters or atenolol; as needed.

Too often there was too much of a good thing – and way too much of not good things.
Cleaning out your clothes closet helps you – not the charity you support or the people they are trying to help. Boxes and boxes and boxes of size 8 jeans are of no help in clothing many, many, many women who wear size 12 or 16 or 2X jeans. Instead they use up space and use up people-power that could be better used in other ways. The call for socks and underwear elicited untold bags and boxes of – used socks and underwear. What are you saying to those who are without – they should be grateful for your used underwear?!  Your toaster with the crumbs of the past 5 years in the bottom? Your retired blender with encrustations of the Margaritas you mixed in 1999? These “gifts” make you feel good. They are a burden to the charity you gave them to, and are thankfully rarely seen by the people you think you are helping.

Keep your shirt on your back, don’t get your old undies in a wad, kiss that old waffle iron good bye (without the heat on, waffle-lips!). Write a check, drop a bill. You won’t feel as warm and fuzzy – but you will have done GOOD.

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