Five days after super typhoon Yolanda pummeled the Visayas, we are now witnessing a different kind of storm surge—a tsunami of help coming from the Philippines and around the world.
Donations are literally flooding gymnasiums and offices of aid and relief groups from well-meaning people who simply can’t stand watching the news and seeing Filipinos in such dire straits.
But is it really okay to donate just about anything?
Caritas Manila, the Catholic social services group, and the Philippine Red Cross list down the worst donations they’ve received—giving grief to volunteer workers who call some of these unwanted items “worse than disasters.
1.Expired food – Donors need to be more aware of the expiry dates of the canned goods they are donating, if they don’t want to risk spreading more sickness and disease to survivors they are trying to help.
2.Expired medicines – Even worse than expired foods. At worst, expired medicines may make victims sick; at best, they might prove ineffective. Also a no-no: prescription drugs and opened or exposed solutions for wounds. Instead, donate paracetamol, ibuprofen, loperamide or cough syrups for kids labeled 12 months in advance of their expiry. Make sure all medicines are properly labeled.
3.Comforters – While comforters can provide warmth, they take too much space when packed and transported. Donate blankets, instead.
4.Broken toys – Children need toys to relieve them of the stress and trauma of what they just went through. But giving them broken toys won’t help. Toys, footwear and books are considered a secondary necessity in the relief phase of response operations now happening in the Visayas. Damaged toys will only compete for space best reserved for basic relief items that need to be transported. Make sure you donate toys to specific groups that will distribute them to calamity victims at the proper time.
5.Designer shoes and handbags – Stilettos and high heels have no place in calamity-stricken areas. Neither do designer handbags. Instead, sell these items in a garage sale and donate the proceeds to the charity of your choice. Victims need slippers.
6.Dirty clothes – Janet Alcaraz, who oversees donations being sent to the Philippine Red Cross, says it’s okay to donate used clothes as long as they’re clean, freshly washed and wearable. They should also be in good condition. No big holes on them, please. When you send dirty clothes, volunteers will still need to wash them—stealing their time away from more crucial tasks.
7.Swimsuits – Meredith Araja, who volunteered to help out victims of tropical storm Sendong in Iligan, recalls finding used underwear and swimsuits in a pile of donated clothes. Calling them “degrading,” Araja said these items are as impractical as the leather jackets, gowns, cocktail dresses, office attire and designer tops that are donated as relief goods.
8.Appliances that don’t work – May Tiangco, head of Caritas Manila’s social marketing department, says they’ve had donations of refrigerators, TV sets and DVD players that don’t work. Also useless: CD collections and old videotapes. What’s needed, however, are (functioning) one-burner gas or electric stoves that can be used to cook hot meals for those sheltered in evacuation centers.
9.Pets – While your intention may be to provide comfort to victims, pets aren’t relief goods. Calamity victims may not be able to care for puppies, cats and rabbits because they need attention and care themselves.
10.Your time when you show up unannounced – The Philippine Red Cross has been overwhelmed with volunteers in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda. In some chapters, there are more volunteers than relief goods that need repacking. This may cause confusion or disrupt operations. So before you show up, make sure you register first with the charity so that they can assign you to work on something that really needs doing.