Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Wenatchee World. Editorial content from other publications is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
There’s a lovely Fred Rogers quote that seems to make the social media rounds after every natural disaster or act of terrorism.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
I remember that quote whenever I’m driving in the car with my small children and they catch snippets of terribly depressing NPR reports and ask me questions. Yes, this bad thing has happened, and now many kind people will help make it better, I say.
Yesterday, the kids and I watched a video clip of a seemingly endless procession of pickup trucks hauling boats along a drenched highway, rolling into Houston. The helpers are on their way.
Here in North Central Washington we are good at helping. We have experience. After wildfires, we fill plastic tubs with cans of food. We lace up our boots and sift through the ashes, side by side. We give to the American Red Cross, the United Way, and the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.
Former World reporter Michelle McNiel covered countless wildfires in her more than 25 years at the newspaper. She shared a fire season memory yesterday, brought to mind by the images coming out of Texas:
“I was covering the Carlton Complex fire the night that it burned through Pateros and Alta Lake. An emergency shelter was set up in Chelan, and before fire refugees even got there volunteers from the community started showing up by the carload, helping to push aside desks and convert classrooms into sleeping areas. Vehicle after vehicle showed up to drop off bedding, clothes, water and food. Many people came to invite people to stay in their homes, and teachers stayed late into the night to watch over their displaced students. Amid such destruction, I was inspired by the generosity, compassion and goodwill of the community.”
Hurricane Harvey made landfall more than 2,000 miles away from us, and yet a lot of people around here feel called to help. But how? The answer, according to humanitarian aid experts, is to donate money. From the Center for International Disaster Information, about why cash is best:
“Most importantly, cash can be used immediately in response to a crisis, and allows disaster relief organizations to purchase exactly what is needed, when it’s needed. Cash gives relief organizations the means to procure supplies near the affected area, which cuts down on transportation time and cost. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.”
Driving a container of donated items from Wenatchee to Houston may cost more than the value of the items. And, at least for now, hurricane victims have no place to put a box of hand-me-down winter coats. These people are sleeping on cots in school gymnasiums. Some have no home to return to. Even the Texas Diaper Bank says it would prefer monetary donations right now. So where exactly should we send our checks? Many people have grown weary about donating to the Red Cross. The organization came under fire for a lack of accountability after the Haiti earthquake, followed by a series of public relations failures after Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac. But the Red Cross is still a widely trusted relief agency with the infrastructure in place to deliver help quickly. CharityNavigator.org also recommends giving to Houston SPCA, Houston Humane Society, Houston Food Bank, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, or San Antonio Humane Society.
It is hard to tell people that their well-intentioned shipment of clothes or toys isn’t as wanted as cold, hard cash. Money doesn’t seem personal.
Entering a credit card number into an online form doesn’t feel the same as attaching a hand-written note to a teddy bear and sticking it in the mail. But this is not about how donating feels for us, the helpers. Giving financially in the aftermath of faraway disasters is the most compassionate thing we can do.