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Lessons in Giving

In the wake of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, or a tragedy like the one in Newtown, CT, our first impulse is to help and to show the victims our support. However, in cases like hurricanes or earthquakes where infrastructure may be damaged, sending physical items may not be the best idea. This article published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy after the Japanese earthquake explains why.

In Newtown, CT, impromptu memorials sprang up all over town, providing the townspeople with visible proof that the world was mourning with them. However, as the days went on, town officials were pulled off other duties and volunteers needed to be coordinated to manage the crush of toys, candles, teddy bears and food that poured into town. Some roadside memorials had tents erected, and other had plastic laid over the stuffed toys to keep them out of the rain. A warehouse had to be procured to store the many donated items. Town officials finally issued a plea for people to consider giving to children’s charities or erecting memorial tributes in their own cities and towns in memory of the Newtown victims, rather than continue to send items to Newtown. On December 26, they formally requested that no more gifts be sent to the town. The town has come up with this ingenious solution as to what to do with all the touching tributes it has already received.

Here is the Town of Newtown’s press release concerning monetary donations. Perhaps the best advice in the document is to be patient and hold donations if possible to allow for processing, infrastructures and safeguards to develop.


To sum it up, tragedies bring out an outpouring of goodness from those wanting to help. Please continue to give when a tragedy strikes, and when you do, please keep these guidelines in mind to ensure that your gift goes where it is most needed and when it is most needed.


Communication and collaboration are key for nonprofits in responding to emergencies. You can always consult with us at the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area for guidance, as we communicate with those charities with “boots on the ground” during emergencies, and can help you find the most effective and efficient way to help.


Posted by Kim Connolly



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