I don’t know about you, but I think one of the worst feelings in the world is unwrapping a present in front of someone and having to fake a smile. You know those gifts- ugly sweaters, random household items, or even family heirlooms that make you think, “What in the world were they thinking? What am I supposed to do with this?”. But you don’t want to hurt the feelings of the gift-giver, so you get your face under control and show your gratitude. It seems like that is one of the early lessons parents teach kids. We are trained from a young age to show our appreciation, regardless of how we feel about the gift.
Now imagine that you are not just unwrapping one unwanted gift, but tracker trailer loads worth of them. Imagine what your church would look like if it was filled to the brim and then some with unwanted gifts? How would you feel if truck after truck brought you clothes that don’t look like thrift stores would even take them? What would happen if a truck came with more toothpaste than there are affected residents? Would you consider it a blessing? This is exactly how so many churches and organizations feel about donations after disasters. While they appreciate the heart behind the giving (just like you appreciate the work that Great Aunt Suzie put into knitting the world’s ugliest sweater), they do not consider the gift itself a blessing because it is not something that they need or want. If you really want to be a blessing after a disaster by donating goods, then it is absolutely essential that you get in contact with a local church and find out what they need. Think of it like a disaster registry. Brides and new moms create registries so that friends and family know what they need and want. They have done their research and decided what will work best for them and their families. These registries are detailed lists of what would be a blessing for them to receive. A lot of times there are specific things that churches need or even specific things they do not want. Be a blessing to the local church by respecting their disaster registry, and not shopping outside of it. I do not know how many times we have seen people leave a church offended because their donations were turned down. What these people do not understand is how difficult it is for church volunteers and staff to say no when they really do appreciate that people want to help. At some point, though, they just have to say no- or the donations will overtake them!
Flexibility is also essential if you are looking to donate items after a disaster. Even if you contact a church and find out what they need, their needs might drastically change from one day to the next. They might have had a great need for tarps, and then someone brought by a semi-load full of tarps or there is no longer a need for tarps in the community. While it might be easy to be flexible with donations if you are going to the store to buy things and then bringing them straight to the church, it can be extremely difficult to be flexible if you are holding a donation drive. For this reason, we really encourage people wanting to hold a donation drive outside of the area to collect finances and gift cards and donate them to a LOCAL church or organization who has a proven track record in the community. This will allow the local church to buy what they need, when they need it. It will also allow them to give out finances and gift cards to families in need for things that they may not be able to get a physical donation for, such as gas and hotel rooms.
As you’re collecting donations to give, please think about your own family and put yourself in the shoes of someone in a disaster. If your house and everything you owned was destroyed today, what would you need and want? While you may appreciate clothes in any condition one day after the disaster, garage sale leftover clothing would probably not be appealing a month later. Your children probably would not want to wear clothes that were stained and had holes in them for weeks on end. When they had to go back to school, they would probably want to dress like themselves again. In times like this, what would you want someone to give to you? What would be exciting for your kids to receive? I know that some people give what they have because they do not have a lot of extra finances. If this is you, please consider that you are not the only one who will be donating items. In fact there will be more donations than the community knows what to do with or have places to store. So before you send bags of items that are not in good condition, please think about going to the store and buying one item that you can afford and someone will appreciate receiving for months to come. Trust me, one new piece of clothing is appreciated more than truckloads of worn clothing. New food items that are easy to cook and healthy are appreciated more than food with expiration dates from years before or items that your own children would not want.
There seems to be this train of thought that beggars cannot be choosers when it comes to disaster relief donations. This is used to justify giving out sub-par items to people in their time of need. But the truth of the matter is that disaster survivors are not beggars. They are people like you and me who had something horrible happen to their family and community. They are people who need to be shown the love of Christ through the generosity of the church. The Bible calls gifts from God “good and perfect” (James 1:17). It says that it is the “goodness of God that leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). The Bible says over and over again that God gives good gifts. If we the Church are supposed to be a reflection of our Heavenly Father, then shouldn’t we also give good gifts? Shouldn’t the world see the love of the Father through what we give and our attitude behind giving it? Let’s show disaster survivors the love of Christ that lives in us by giving donations in good condition that we know are needed at the time. And when in doubt, let’s give finances, gift cards, and prayers!