Everyone is moved when the news arrives that disaster has struck a community. You want to help, but how? Sure, you could probably search through your closet and find a few things to donate that you’re not using anymore. But if YOU don’t want it, who’s to say that THEY will? We have found that used clothes are rarely a useful item to collect or send to a disaster area because it is hard to clean, sort, pack, transport, store and distribute. Mounds of clothing take up valuable warehouse space and frequently end up being discarded.
So what’s the answer then? How can you provide help that is actually helpful to a family who has lost much in a disaster? Even though sending used clothes sounds like an ‘easy’ way to help, gift cards can be an incredibly effective way to give real physical assistance to an individual or a family with a value that exceeds the number printed on its face. Regardless of their physical need, a gift card can supply what they lack: food, clothes, tools, diapers etc. You name it and it can be supplied via gift card.
Thus, when we visit congregations and communities after a disaster, we will often travel with quite a few $100 gift cards to various stores (often several thousand dollars worth) and give them to the local pastor and other leaders in the church to distribute as they encounter families who would benefit greatly from just such a gift from the local congregation. When a disaster strikes and you generously donate through LCMS Disaster Response, some of your gift goes to gift cards to help out in time of immediate and acute need.
Yet the involvement of the local church does not end after a gift card exchanges hands. In reality, it’s a tool that fills an immediate need and initiates a relationship between affected community members and the local congregation – a relationship that is revisited and fostered over the ensuing weeks and months as the congregation and her members seek to provide long term care (in both body and soul) for her neighbors.
And what about those clothes and other items you’re not using anymore? Have a yard sale or a church-wide garage sale and donate the proceeds! In this way, your used items find homes where they will be put to good use, and disaster responders are given a wonderful flexibility in their ability to respond and provide assistance.
Rev. Michael Meyer