Joplin overwhelmed with donations

May 27 2011 - 9:59am

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Blood drives. Clothing drives. Food drives, even for pets. Diapers, bottled water and hygiene products.

As recovery efforts continue in Joplin, Mo., generosity has overflowed from churches, sports teams, Scout troops and even dry cleaners gathering items for tornado victims.

So much generosity, in fact, that emergency officials now say that the tornado-ravaged city has been overwhelmed with unsolicited donations. And that, they say, could confuse efforts to aid those affected by the disaster.

"We're seeing lots of unsolicited items, perishable goods, used clothing, used shoes," said Jono Anzalone, a voluntary agency liaison for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "And it's really deterring from a lot of lifesaving, life-protective measures that are ongoing throughout the city."

At one point this week, he said, the American Red Cross had to displace tornado victims from a shelter to find room to store all the donations.

Not that charities want in any way to discourage people from donating. Anzalone joined officials with Harvesters and Feeding America to get the word out that donations are desperately needed.

It's just that they must be part of a coordinated effort, officials said during a news conference Thursday in Kansas City.

Harvesters, for example, is in a good position to coordinate food donations, said Karen Haren, the non-profit's president and CEO.

"We're asking the community to give food," Haren said. "Let us process and coordinate those donations. We're also encouraging people to give money, both to Harvesters as well as other organizations that in an organized and coordinated way are helping with the disaster response."

Haren said Harvesters is working with a food bank that handles the Joplin area. On Wednesday, she said, the agency delivered 10,000 ready-to-eat lunches donated by Sprint employees.

Margaret Larson, of Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization, said the six food banks in Missouri, along with Feeding America, have sent 25 truckloads of product to Joplin and have six more loads ready to go.

"Once they are ready to take that, we will ship it down and have it distributed," she said. "But it's all part of a coordinated system, and we believe it's very important for everyone to work in that system so that what gets donated and what gets sent is the best product at the best time getting to the right people."

Other agencies echoed the pleas for a coordinated effort.

"Everybody wants to donate clothing," said Carole Moore, a volunteer with Heart to Heart International, which has set up a mobile medical clinic in Joplin. "It comes from a good place in people's hearts, but we do not have a need for that. Because we staff a mobile medical clinic which is already down there, we really try to stick with products that support the unit, as well as personal hygiene items."

The agency asks that people donate toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, washcloths, hand towels and Band-Aids.

"That way, when there is a disaster such as this, those things are ready to hand out to the people," Moore said.

Anzalone said volunteers have been pouring into Joplin as well.

"There have been 5,600 spontaneous volunteers processed since Sunday night at the volunteer reception center," he said.

He said, however, that volunteers should not just show up in Joplin.

"First and foremost, do not self-deploy," he said.

The Humane Society of Missouri issued an advisory of its own on Wednesday.

"The Joplin area is now overwhelmed with spontaneous supply donations and volunteers," it said. "Persons are advised NOT to travel to the area unless they have received official authorization."

The agency has a 23-member disaster response team in Joplin comprising animal rescue workers, shelter and veterinary professionals and trained emergency volunteers. On Wednesday, the group reunited 64 animals with their owners and retrieved 400 other animals.

Local blood banks were busy as well -- by Wednesday, they were urging donors to postpone giving blood because inventory levels soared in the days after the tornado.

"We had an amazing response," said Sara Person, communications specialist with the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City. "First thing Monday morning we had people waiting in line."

(c) 2011, The Kansas City Star.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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