Sunday, May 29, 2011

Charitable Donations After a Disaster

Responding to a natural disaster brings out the best in most of us. We want to help, we're eager to donate, we may even organize a drive to collect items that we'll send to the affected area. But sometimes our donations can cause even more problems for the recipients. AP writer Jay Reeves reports on the situation in Tuscaloosa after the recent tornadoes (After Tornadoes, Junk Donations Become a Challenge):

"...with storage space scarce, most [charities] say they can't handle any more used toys or cast-off clothing. 'That becomes the disaster within the disaster,' said Salvation Army spokesman Mark Jones. 'When people make those mass donations . . . it causes the community to be overrun with them and have to deal with that in addition to the storm damage.' . . . Temporary Emergency Services of Tuscaloosa County already has ten warehouses full of donations, but too many of those items are broken toys, dirty stuffed animals and used underwear that has to be thrown in the trash, said agency director Karen Thompson. While the warehouse space was also donated, Thompson said storing all that stuff is still costly because the organization must pay liability insurance to cover the operation in case someone is hurt on the job."

I have no idea why anyone would donate items that are in such bad condition that they have to be trashed, but obviously even the well-intentioned donations of usable goods can backfire.

So, what should you donate? Cleaning products, new underwear, nonperishable foods, pet food and sports drinks are usually safe bets, but if you can check with the charity first, that's advisable. Cash is always welcome.

An interesting thought to ponder is why it so often takes a disaster to get those donations out of the hands of their owners. It's obviously stuff that's not necessary and it could have been donated before the disaster occured. So why hesitate? Why not let go sooner, before an emergency happened?

And what will happen to all the stuff that's currently overflowing at the relief centers?

"'We hate to tell people 'no,'" [donation center volunteer manager Beth] Rhea said. So any left over water, clothing, baby food and other items will be donated again, possibly sent to other parts of the state that may be short on supplies. "We will box it all up, label the boxes and send them to another disaster."

Let's put our good intentions to work and donate what we can right now. Then let's set aside some cash to help out when the next disaster hits, as it surely will. We can think of it as just another good way to practice emergency preparedness.

© 2011 Cynthia Friedlob
Image credit: Laura Griffith at stock.xchng

Friday, May 13, 2011

Artfully Organized

I've mentioned before that our brains are hardwired to create order out of whatever we encounter, so it would be reasonable to assume that the less work our brains have to do to figure it out, the faster we'll get to a mental state we find comfortable. If we constantly assault our brains with chaos, we'll become stressed, exhausted, perhaps numb. We won't be able to function at our peak, nor will will we be able to fully enjoy ourselves because our poor old brains will be preoccupied trying to make sense of things. This is why empty beaches at sunset are relaxing -- and why uncluttered homes are less stressful.

We can use this information to help us get inspired to organize our possessions. What if we tried looking at beautiful images in which "stuff" is organized and displayed in such an appealing way that it becomes art? Once you've pared down your clutter to a manageable amount, it's helpful to change the way you look at what you're keeping. If you think of it as art and think of yourself as the curator of your own personal museum, you'll approach organizing it in a different way.

Check out "A Collection A Day, 2010," a blog by artist/illustrator Lisa Congdon in which she uses photographs to beautifully document her many collections.

Then go to Things Organized Neatly, a blog featuring photographs submitted by its readers, with each photo representing things that are well-organized. [Hat tip to Dina at Discardia for this link.]

So, how many things should you keep and organize? That's up to you. But you might want to take a look at one of my favorite books to get some perspective about how many possessions people have in other parts of the world. Material World by Peter Menzel, Charles C. Mann, and Paul Kennedy features photographs of families from all over the globe, standing outside their homes, surrounded by their possessions -- many or very few. It will help you decide that maybe your personal museum doesn't have to be quite as large as the Met!

© 2011 Cynthia Friedlob
Image credit: Gavin Mills at stock.xchng