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Logistics and Disaster Relief: How to Help (and Not Hurt) Relief Efforts When You Donate or Volunteer

I just returned from the annual meeting of the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) in Kansas City, just hours from Joplin, Missouri. The outpouring of support from the public has been unbelievable. But based on feedback I heard from first responders at the meeting, unsolicited donations of water, clothes and other items have significantly challenged relief efforts. One relief organization told me they have thousands of cases of water in their warehouse. The AP highlighted this issue in a story about junk donations creating problems for relief agencies helping tornado victims in Alabama.

In my role with The UPS Foundation, I receive hundreds of calls asking for UPS to ship unsolicited goods. The challenge is that these donations don’t meet the needs of the relief agencies that are helping victims. UPS does not transport collected items from unsolicited donors for relief efforts. Instead, we’ve established in-kind agreements with relief organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, CARE, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Aidmatrix Network. Our goal is provide logistics support to deliver the right items to the right place at the right time.

In 2010, UPS transported over 3 million pounds of urgent relief supplies for these agencies, and approximately $2 million in free shipping in response to disasters around the world. 

When disaster strikes, compassion and concern often stir people to help. But what’s the best way to truly provide help … and not hurt relief efforts? Here’s what disaster relief agencies shared with me.    

Donate Money

Financial contributions are often the best kind of donation to make. There are many relief organizations with considerable experience in areas such as clean-up, mass feeding, mass sheltering, first aid, crisis counseling, child care, home repair and pet care. When the public supports these organizations with financial donations, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to the people in need after a disaster. The NVOAD offers a list of relief organizations involved in preparedness, prevention, response and recovery in the U.S at nvoad.org. To learn more about relief organizations involved in international disasters, visit interaction.org.

If Donating Goods, Verify Items Will be Accepted and Used

Before taking action, contact a relief agency to confirm what items are needed. Do not begin collecting, packing or shipping until you have a known recipient who will accept the donation. It often takes a week before first responders can assess local needs after a disaster. The Aidmatrix Network connects donors to the needs of relief agencies who respond to disasters. Agencies post their needs on the site, so donors can match them. When donors match the items in demand, either the agency or UPS will provide priority transportation. Make sure shipments of donated goods are well packed and labeled. Put yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end of the shipment and think about making the unpacking, warehousing and distribution as simple as possible. For example, list contents on the outside of the box to make it easier to sort items.

If you are collecting goods, but don’t see a match at the Aidmatrix Network, consider holding a garage sale and donating the proceeds to the agency of your choice.

For Volunteers, Take Advantage of Disaster Assistance Training

Before the next disaster strikes, sign up for training. Volunteers are encouraged to affiliate with an organization involved in disaster response and recovery. Plan to be as self-sufficient as possible. If there is a volunteer center in the area, it is an excellent source of information about opportunities to help after a disaster. Check out HandsOnNetwork.org.

The generosity and kindness of people including our own customers does a lot to help communities heal from tragic consequences of disasters. However it’s important to first coordinate the help with experienced disaster relief organizations so that people in need of help receive it in the most timely and effective manner.

Category: Caring for Communities, Helpful Tips and Ideas, Logistics
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    Comments [26]

  1. Спасибо Вам за этот пост

  2. The service sector of the 21st century is much more
    advanced than most Americans perceive it to be.
    Nonprofits of all stripes are embracing the lessons
    learned from the best of the sector, along with the best
    of other sectors, to more effectively and efficiently
    advance their missions.

    The UPS Foundation’s partnerships help to elevate
    service organizations into the realm of excellence, with
    no caveat on whether they exist to return profits to
    shareholders or to pay a different kind of dividend to
    the community they serve. I hope the outpouring of
    benevolence following recent storms that have
    devastated the heartland, southeast and New England
    will also include an elevation in the desire for donors to
    engage in effective philanthropy.

    Thanks for helping to bring this to light, and for offering
    meaningful direction for donors.

  3. Thanks for the great blog post. As a staff member of the
    American Red Cross, I appreciate your support in helping
    to direct donors to how they can provide the most support
    after disasters. We all have the same goal — getting help
    to people in need as soon as possible. Thanks for being
    such a great partner in providing that help.

  4. Thank you for the tips. I’m definitely one of those people
    who donates … but always wonders if the donations are
    going to the places I had hoped (or been assured) they would.

    I’ll be following your advice. Thank you!


  5. Excellent advice. Thanks!

  6. great suggestions! thank you. i donate all the time, but
    probably don’t do as good a job as i could. next time i’ll
    rock it.

  7. Great article, very timely as we move into hurricane season.

  8. Very informative post good for you.

  9. Good article. There are many well-intended people
    willing to help in the face of disaster. The trouble is, they
    are at a loss at the best way to give. This kind of
    information is just what donors need to be ready the next
    time disaster hits.

  10. Great post. In the recent floods here, there were a
    couple of small towns that were inundated by container
    loads of donations of clothing, white goods and random
    stuff like household doors and pool chlorine. The
    already stressed residents then had to try and find
    undercover storage for all the stuff, most of which was
    completely useless to them. No one wanted to talk
    about it in case people got offended and stopped

    Let’s get the truth out there and tell people HOW they
    can be useful and what will help. We’re all adults, we
    can deal with the truth. Thanks for sharing. x

  11. Yes! Working for the United Methodist Church and
    UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) we
    see this all the time. The relief organizations need
    money, not hand-me-downs. I call it the Teddy Bear
    Syndrome. After 9/11 so many people sent Teddy Bears
    to New York. It was not what we needed in NYC. Yet we
    accepted the love and support that the stuffed animals
    represented. So I learned that before I give (anything,
    even advice!), I want know that the gift is needed. and
    not a burden.

  12. these suggestions are very valuable. I agree with you
    money is the best form of donation.

  13. Thanks so much for the pointers. It makes you wonder about
    what you’ve donated already doesn’t it? Same with giveing
    them money really.

  14. Great post! I am in Joplin right now with Red Cross and am
    seeing first-hand how unsolicited stuff sent to the
    non-profits absorbs precious resources (i.e.: time,
    warehouse space, transportation) and creates additional
    burdens and responsibilities for those helping those
    affected by the devastating tornado. I look forward to
    sharing this with many people!!!!

  15. Thanks for all the suggestions.

  16. I have done some relief efforts myself. Truly rewarding.

  17. “right items to the right place at the right time.”


    Webster’s Chapel AL – 6/11 volunteers and residents
    working in 95 degree heat – no sunscreen no insect repellent

    Ider, AL – 6/10 residents still living in tents –
    volunteers and residents trying to clear debris and
    rebuild – Rescue Squad that has been carrying the burden
    for weeks since Red Cross left town… no Gatorade/sports
    drinks.. none – The folks over at Pepsico/Gatorade tells
    us ‘we are working with the Red Cross’..

    crews from churches and civic groups cooking hot meals for
    residents and volunteers for weeks and weeks in areas that
    the Red Cross pulled out of a long time ago

    A lady who lost everything just got her trailer. She has 3
    boxes of donated clothes and a few pieces of donated
    furniture. Is the Red Cross knocking on her door to offer
    her food, or assistance with utilities or a ride to her
    dr appt? She is now receiving donated canned goods from
    one of ‘those’ warehouses, paper products from one of
    ‘those’ warehouses, pots and pans from one of ‘those’
    warehouses… well you get the idea.

    A dozen other small Alabama towns – similar stories..

    I 100% agree that there have been issues with unneeded
    donations etc but there needs to be a middle ground
    between too much (by the citizens) and not enough (by the
    agencies) . If we saw the Red Cross or Salvation Army pull
    back into Alabama with solutions.. then the next time.. we
    would not feel so much the need to donate what we can.

    • Becky,

      Thanks for your feedback, and more important, thanks
      for your tireless volunteer support for others in your

      Our thoughts are with all the victims, as well as the
      responders and volunteers who are making a
      difference to those who have a long road ahead to get
      back to normalcy.

      There is no doubt that more can be done to support
      the long-term recovery process. We recognize the vital
      coordination that is needed among civic and faith
      based organizations along with the business
      community, and government to help speed the
      recovery process. We continue to work with all of
      these groups to improve response and recovery
      efforts and address unmet needs.

      I might mention that we all appreciate feedback that
      ultimately will help improve the process. I intend to
      forward your message to executives at the various
      relief agencies that we work with. I also want to share
      that in my experience the American Red Cross and the
      Salvation Army are two outstanding organizations with
      dedicated people who share your commitment to
      helping others.

      Thank you again for your reply.


      Joe Ruiz
      Humanitarian Relief Program Manager.

  18. Great read! Thanks for helping spread the word about
    how to help correctly. Everyone should choose a
    “Disaster” charity and work closely with them – especially
    in financial support. But choosing and working with a
    particular charity you will know how your donations are
    being used.

  19. Good to know. Thanks!

  20. Thank you for sharing content to read

  21. Thank you for sharing content to read

  22. Thank you for sharing content to read

  23. I would like to expand your idea further, and will digging
    out more for further details.

  24. Your sharing comment is very useful. Hope we will have a
    chance to explore this info.

  25. Great information. I have been with this experience
    before, but will aware of that.

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