Saunders: To help storm victims, can the cans and pass the cash

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2012 

Barry Porter doesn’t want you to take this the wrong way, but you can keep your canned corn, blankets and gently worn clothes.

He wants your money.

Or blood.

Porter, regional executive director of the American Red Cross, told me Wednesday that, while the organization appreciates the donations of food, clothing and blankets, cash is better.

“It’s easier to support the Red Cross with money,” he said, because money makes it easier for it to get what people need and to get what they need to them.

“I know it sounds kind of cold when I give you this answer, but we need money. We’re not equipped to handle canned goods and things like that,” Porter said when I called him and asked what can we in the Triangle do to help the people Up North whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

See, any time a tragedy occurs around here, we’re always eager to help, so it seemed likely that many of us would want to do more than just gaze helplessly at the waterlogged horror unfolding on TV.

“It’s not that we don’t need it,” Porter said of the donations many of us automatically think to make after a disaster, “but the time it takes to sort through it, organize it and transport it — it’s easier for us to go to the supplier and buy the food and blankets.

“That’s a lower priority for us, but for others it’s a great way to help,” he said, noting that other charities — to which the Red Cross can provide a link — are better able to organize and distribute bulk items.

Because Sandy is the catastrophe that has captivated the nation’s attention right now, I asked if people can specify precisely where their contributions go.

Yes and no, Porter said. If the donation is big enough, like say, $100,000, people can specify that it go to a particular tragedy. “We will work with them to fulfill that designation,” he said.

That becomes more difficult with smaller donations, he said. “The average gift is about $57,” he said. “If you’re going to trust us with the gift, trust us to do the right thing with it.”

Trust? That might be easier said than done, considering what we’ve learned about some charitable organizations recently.

For instance: Remember a few months ago when I reported on a formerly beloved charity that admitted that 89 cents of every dollar it received went to administrative costs — mainly salaries — and only the remaining chump change went to the charity?

Mindful of that, it was heartening when Porter said 91cents of every dollar the Red Cross receives goes to actually helping people.

Right on.

Blood is needed not because of blood used during Hurricane Sandy, he said, but to make up for blood that was not collected because of it. “Our supply in that part of the country was disrupted,” he said, citing Baltimore, Washington, New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Those cities “canceled 300 blood drives and lost 9,000 blood donations.”

To give blood, go to www.redcrossblood.org for the nearest site. To give money, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just text Red Cross at 90999 and $10 will be credited, click on www.redcross.org or send a check to your local Red Cross office.

Sure, most Yankees can often come across as insufferably independent, but everyone needs help sometimes.

Besides, in a situation like this, they’re not Yankees: they’re Americans.

Saunders: bsaunders@newsobserver.com, or 919-836-2811

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