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Why it's better to donate cash than canned goods

Haiti, January 15, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Ronny Munro/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Ronny Munro/Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps has been contacted by hundreds of big-hearted people wanting to launch drives to collect materials such as used clothing, canned food and medical supplies for Haiti survivors. Many others are interested in learning where Mercy Corps' "drop-off sites" are for materials such as these. First of all, thank you for your support and compassion!

However, Mercy Corps generally does not accept donated materials from the general public, especially in times of emergency (note that we gladly consider large corporate donations of brand-new product, if it meets a specified need).

So, if there is so much need in Haiti, why is it NOT a good idea to collect materials on behalf of the survivors?

There are several reasons:

1. The materials collected in drives are often not the supplies that are most urgently needed (for example, at the moment one of the priorities in Haiti is for specialized water/sanitation equipment);
2. The cost of shipping materials may exceed their actual value;
3. Someone will need to pay to transport the materials from the collection site to the disaster relief site;
4. Someone on the receiving end will need to clear customs (and possibly pay duties), and get the materials out of port, at a time when the port may not be functioning, or may be overwhelmed. (The port in Haiti is not functioning, so right now supplies are only coming in by air.)
5. The materials collected in the drive may compete at the port with more critical supplies (those pre-selected and shipped by governments, UN agencies and relief agencies such as Mercy Corps) that need to get in, doing more harm than good.
6. If the materials do get in the country, someone on the receiving end will need to transport goods to a warehouse, inventory and store them, and distribute them in an appropriate and equitable manner.
7. If the above issues are NOT worked out ahead of time, materials may sit in the port and ultimately be destroyed. In the case of the tsunami of 2005, literally tons of materials collected by well-meaning people launching drives in the USA were ultimately destroyed at ports.

Therefore, for the reasons described above, many reputable aid organizations will NOT accept materials collected by the general public for international emergencies; most prefer to use limited cash funds to purchase supplies in or close to the disaster site. By purchasing materials in nearby markets, aid agencies can purchase exactly what is needed, support local economies and businesses in the country or region, get aid to those who need it more quickly, and ultimately use donor funds more effectively and wisely.

For more information about why cash donations are best, please visit the FAQ section of the Center for International Disaster Information's website: http://www.cidi.org/media/faq.htm.

In the meantime, please consider a cash donation to Mercy Corps' Haiti response, as a cash donation will allow us to purchase those items most needed, and get them to recipients quickly.

Thanks again to everyone for their support and concern for the people of Haiti.