May 26, 2013

I know it make us “feel better” to do something-anything to help those in need, so once again, Minnesotans conducted a food drive for disaster relief for those harmed by the Oklahoma tornado last week.  What about the plea from Oklahoman officials themselves on the very day the tornado struck did we not understand?

They asked specifically that those who wanted to help should donate cash to the Red Cross instead….and on that same day, they took the time to explain why.  This is an issue – wherever it takes place- that is dear to me because of lessons learned when I was involved twenty-five years ago with Second Harvest and “Taste” activities here in Minnesota. And every time I watch it unfold, I ask myself “When are we going to listen?!!!”

It is a fact.  When “feeling good” is compared to financial and operational efficiency, “feel good” loses.  I am not suggesting that we put down that “need to help” response; I just wish the press would aid in delivering the message that might someday allow us to redirect those good instincts to something that actually HELPS those in need.  But once again, that truck we sent to Oklahoma filled with “stuff” was proudly featured on all the news channels this past week.

So once again, here is some “food for thought” in hopes that someday, somewhere, logic will trump “feeling good” and we will learn to help those in need in a more efficient manner!

Add up the costs of donated food vs. what could have been purchased by professional buyers with expert knowledge about needs for disaster relief.  When compared to what is spent buying wholesale or less…”Feel Good” loses.

Add up the nutritional value of donated food-usually canned or boxed and individual portions of plastic-bottled water  vs. those items purchased by professional buyers with access to fresh and frozen goods…”Feel Good” loses.

Add up the out-of-pocket costs that food drive just created.  Think in terms of dollars for the truck rental, the driver and gas to move the contributed items from Minnesota to Oklahoma.  How much more focused assistance could have been purchased if these dollars had been channeled to efficient experts in disaster relief?…”Feel Good” loses.

And when that truck arrives?  Who pays to organize these amateur trucks?  Who unloads?  Who sorts and stores and pays for warehouses and labor rental just to get our gifts organized and directed into the on site distribution system?  Why do we insist on adding steps to the process that create inefficiency?  Single bags and boxes get shelved manually – not via a computerized system aided by fork lifts and an inventory system to track what arrived, what’s available and what has been eventually been redirected to those in need. Another burden piled on those in need and those experts working to help them…so “Feel Good” loses.

Did anyone think how individual or family size portion “gifts” would be used by people who have no homes, no kitchens, no stoves or even can-openers?  How much of what was sent was purchased in industrial use quantities so it might be redirected to temporary shelters?  Once again, “Feel Good” loses.

How much do all those single plastic water bottles and food cans/boxes contribute to waste…needing to be picked up by garbage collectors that may not even be in service yet?  And those in service have as a priority cleaning up storm debris.  They and any waste land fills in the area are already pretty “stretched” with the task at hand.  So again, “feel good” loses.

I know I sound like Scrooge.  I do not mean to at all.  I just wish that we would listen to the experts and to those in need, and instead of organizing so we “feel good” will organize based on need and efficiency and provide what the victims have asked for and can use.




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