'The second disaster': Impractical donations burden Fort McMurray relief work
Canadians have responded to the evacuation of fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, Alta. by donating, not only millions of dollars, but huge quantities of household goods, clothes, food and toys. Rather than help, however, relief workers say the overwhelming generosity amounts to too much of a good thing.
It’s being called “the second disaster,” as mountains of donated goods pile up in warehouses and truckloads more continue to arrive. CTV’s Canada AM talked with the vice-president for Red Cross Alberta and Northwest Territories, Jennifer McManus, about how the kindness of strangers has become a burden for aid workers.
“This creates a tremendous amount of logistical and personnel challenges. To get things to people and to make sure that it’s the right things,” she said.
McManus described some of the well-intentioned, but unhelpful items she has seen donated to the relief effort, including dirty clothes, “pairs of shoes” that are missing one shoe, stiletto heels and concert T-shirts from the 1960s.
“This isn’t the time to clean your closet or do a spring cleaning and declutter your life,” she said.
The main reason, McManus says, is that relief workers are left with the enormous task of sorting the donations. Sometimes the items can be given to other charities, but they often end up in landfills instead. McManus said this work can be a challenge for volunteers who could be using their time to help in other areas.
McManus said monetary donations to charitable organizations helping Fort McMurray evacuees are best.
“The Canadian Red Cross feels that providing financial assistance to people impacted by this disaster allows them to make decisions on their own needs at a time of crisis,” she said.
The benefits of cash donations are two-fold. They allow people to buy the items they need the most and they promote the local economy. McManus said evacuees are resilient and that they have a good sense of what they need.
“Being able to provide financial assistance and have individuals and families go out and purchase their own needs is actually really empowering,” she said.
The Red Cross is providing $50 million, or $600 per adult and $300 per child, to Fort McMurray evacuees. The Red Cross has raised more than $94 million in individual donations.
The Alberta government is distributing debit cards worth $1,250 for adults and $500 for each child.