Monday, February 01, 2010

Donating for Disasters

It is remarkable how generous we are. Despite the bad economy here at home, everyone I look there are collections going on for Haiti. At my condo building the mailroom fills up every week. At work, there are piles of food and clothing waiting to go.

But it is also remarkable how clueless many of us are about the best ways to give. Today, I saw a case of Cup O' Noodles in one of the collection sites. The size of this case compared to the amount of food it carried, suggests that it will probably cost more to ship it over to Haiti than it will be worth to the aid agencies. Same thing for the loose cans of Vienna Sausages, I suspect.

On the other hand, if you donate money to the UN, they purchase staples like rice in huge volumes (at steep discounts) and contract out for special nutrition bars that have a days worth of vitamins and calories in a small package. The gains in efficiency from ordering this way can feed a family of 5 for an entire day for the same price as one can of Campbell's soup shipped from the US.

So please continue to be generous. But don't use this as an excuse to clean out the pantry of things you don't want anymore. Be smart about it. Donate money to reliable organizations like the UN or the Red Cross. And if you have to give food, give something compact and calorie/nutrient dense, like dried beans or grains.