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Disaster Relief: Donate Wisely to Joplin Survivors

May 31, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - While the work continues in Joplin to identify the victims of last week's tornado, relief agencies are busy helping survivors, while managing the tremendous outpouring of public support.

Ellen Feldhausen with Harvesters, The Community Food Network, says the overwhelming amount of donations is creating problems that can take away from the mission at hand. The food bank communications director says trained volunteers often have to stop what they're doing to sort, organize and process unsolicited donations.

Feldhausen advises prospective donors to first contact recognized organizations to learn exactly what is needed.

"Please help - we understand how much people want to do that - but help through the authorized agencies. To make donations, people should call and find out what victims need, through agencies such as Harvesters, the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. That way they'll make sure their donation or effort really counts and is something that is useful."

Feldhausen says Harvesters has joined forces with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Missouri Food Bank Association to better manage the public support for Joplin tornado survivors. She points out that the spirit of giving doesn't have to happen all at once to make a difference.

In fact, she describes disaster relief as a marathon, not a sprint.

"People in that area are going to need our support in many, many ways for a very long time. Of course, right now we're seeing the horrendous pictures and hearing the stories, and our instinct is to want to go do something right now."

Feldhausen says cash is the best donation because it provides relief organizations the most flexibility to get exactly what is needed. In most areas of Missouri, the easiest way to volunteer time or make a donation is to call 211, she adds.

Harvesters helps with disaster relief nationwide, through Feeding America.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO