What’s the Best Way to Give to Haiti?

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In the days since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, you have likely been inundated with requests to give money and/or various forms of supplies in order to support the victims of this natural disaster. The response from the American public, and from Jews in particular, has been great. But the more I read about giving to Haiti, the more confused I am about what’s really the best course of action.

First, I read an article provocatively titled, Don’t Give Money to Haiti. I encourage you to go read the whole article, but here are some highlights:

For one thing, right now there’s very little that can be done with the money. There are myriad bottlenecks and obstacles involved in getting help to the Haitians who need it, but lack of funds is not one of them. For the next few weeks, help will come largely from governments, who are also spending hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of soldiers to the cause. But with the UN alone seeking to raise $550 million, it’s going to be easy to say that all the money donated to date isn’t remotely enough.

The last time there was a disaster on this scale was the Asian tsunami, five years ago. And for all its best efforts, the Red Cross has still only spent 83% of its $3.21 billion tsunami budget — which means that it has over half a billion dollars left to spend. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s money which could be spent in Haiti, if it weren’t for the fact that it was earmarked.

The gist of the article seems to be that if you feel like giving now, give to a sound charitable organization, and do not restrict your donation.

Then there’s a response creatively titled Felix Salmon is Wrong; We SHOULD Give Money to Haiti. Highlights:

Just because all the money cannot be employed immediately doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give now. To wait is to run the risk that public attention will move on to other causes, and in the end there wouldn’t be sufficient money for the sustained effort that Haiti needs. Various organizations will employ the donations as they can. I discussed this issue with my colleague Steven Wheeler, who directs the NYSE Euronext Foundation, and he pointed out: “There is relief, and then there is recovery.” After the emergency, there is infrastructure to be rebuilt — roads, schools, medical facilities, sanitation systems — a process that will take years and continued effort.

Then today’s New York Times advises us to give give give, but only money, not supplies. Highlights:

Don’t send shoes, send money. Don’t send baby formula, send money. Don’t send old coats, send money.

Nonprofit groups rarely look a gift horse in the mouth, and the relief effort in Haiti is desperate for resources. But the experience of wasteful giving in the past, coupled with the ease of speaking out via blogs, Facebook and Twitter, have led to an unprecedented effort to teach Americans what not to give.

Another widely circulated blog post, “No One Needs Your Old Shoes: How Not to Help in Haiti,” was written shortly after the earthquake by Alanna Shaikh, an international relief and development expert working in Tajikistan. It suggested giving money, not goods; going to volunteer only if you have medical expertise and are vetted by a reputable organization; and supporting the far less immediate task of rebuilding Haiti.

In direct contrast to that article is another article, also in the Times, about Hasidim and Haitians in Rockland County NY getting together to gather supplies and send volunteers to Haiti.

This village is hardly alone in its flurry of Haitian relief efforts, but given its Haitian population, it’s not surprising that it has become an extraordinary example. Largely through the efforts of the Ramapo Haitian Task Force, a local aid group, and Jean Elie Porchette, 29, a car salesman and computer technician, the crew of nurses, firefighters and other volunteers flew to Chicago on Tuesday and from there to Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. The village’s Jews came up with the money to fly the team members from New York to Chicago and put them up for a night. There are already plans for more missions, the next including local doctors.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community et al has been coughing up serious cash to various Jewish institutions providing support to Haitians, particularly AJWS which has raised $2.4 million, and the JDC, which has raised $1.5 million, according to JTA.

Then there’s this great video by my internet crush Jay Smooth about the importance of giving to Haiti because of what Haiti has given us.

But Jay recommends giving money, in particular to Wyclef’s organization Yele, which actually seems like a bad idea, and anyway I’m still a little worried that giving money now is not the best way to help.

Here are some ideas about ways I might be able to be helpful and constructive without giving money:

–Call a local Haitian organization and ask if they need help with any of their regular programming, or if they might need help settling any possible refugees. They’re probably devoting all of their time and resources to relief efforts. Do they need someone to answer phones or stuff envelopes or man the door at an event? Are any refugees coming in who might need help with basic job skills, learning English, or finding a place to live?

–Call friends and/or bigshots from some of my favorite Jewish organizations and ask if they’d be willing to go in on a fundraiser for Haiti to be scheduled in, say, July, when a lot of the enthusiasm for the cause will have waned, and we can see what’s needed, and where’s the best place to send our money. I’m thinking small scale, like a bake sale, a car wash, or a happy hour. Choose a date and send out some emails about it now so that people know it’s going to happen in July, and that they’ll have another opportunity to give then.

–Give money or time to my favorite charities that might be hurting now because so much energy is being directed at Haiti. Specifically, local organizations that do community organizing for hunger relief, providing shelter to the homeless, and job placement services.

Posted on January 21, 2010

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