Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quilts for Japan -- I don't think so

They're at it again -- the sympathetic and caring people who want to do something for Japan in the wake of its earthquake.  As surely as night is followed by day, disaster is followed by people wanting to send quilts to the survivors.  I wrote about this last year when the quake hit Haiti, but obviously enough people don't read my blog and do what I tell them.

Could there be a more inefficient way to provide help and solace to people whose lives have been turned upside down than for each of us to put a quilt in a box and send it across the ocean?  Well, maybe to put a quilt in a box and send it to somebody in Ohio, who will then unpack all the little boxes and get all the quilts across the ocean in a big box.  That's being suggested on the Quiltart list this week.

But wait, there is an even more inefficient way!  This morning's Quiltart list brings the suggestion that you send canned food, and a can opener, in an express mail box (postage $12.95) to a US soldier stationed in northern Japan, who will hand deliver the box to a shelter.

A brief Google foray reveals a variety of opinions on how one should respond if faced by the desire to help Japan.  One school of thought repeats my favorite mantra: if you want to get help to people fast, send money to an organization that's there already and knows how to provide disaster relief.  I always used to love the Red Cross, but became disillusioned at its misuse of money donated after 9/11 (they used the money for other purposes) and its flawed responses in New Orleans and Haiti.  Now I favor smaller groups with more focus, such as Doctors Without Borders.

Another school of thought is that Japan is a very rich nation with a highly developed sense of community responsibility, more able to take care of itself than practically any other country on the earth, and perhaps we should direct our charitable activities toward places that need it more.  Haiti is still a mess.  And of course, there are plenty of people right here in the U.S. who need help, especially since Congress seems hellbent on throwing more and more unfortunates off the train.

Yet another school of thought is that it's a bad idea to earmark your donation for a specific place, no matter what organization.  You should simply support their efforts and thus enable them to respond immediately to what happens.  For instance, Doctors Without Borders was on the ground right in Japan right after the quake simply because they had resources already.  Had they been required to wait for "Japan" money to roll in, they'd still be staging up somewhere waiting for a plane.

I'm splitting the difference.  We give to Doctors Without Borders every year, but I'm waiting to see what happens in Japan before committing to any new donations.  And I'm sure as heck not going to send a quilt or a can of beans.


  1. You personify the internet Troll.

    If you are being sarcastic, you picked a miserable subject. I hope "Their" willingness to care and be sympathetic to others in distress (no matter how it's accomplished) has not dried up when your time of need rolls around. Yes, posted anonymously because I wouldn't want your venom washing up on my shores.

  2. Pretty much my thoughts. I found this to be an intelligent response and not at all venomous.

  3. Anonymous -- not to worry. You can post what you want and I won't wash anything up on your shores.

    I am in favor of caring and sympathy in practically every circumstance of human distress. But I believe it behooves intelligent people to think about how things are accomplished, and choose the better way over the worse way.

  4. I guess I think there's room for both. Emergencies require efficiency. And that means money to those who know what they're doing, and are ready to do it. (Groups like the Red Cross and others have their issues for sure!If we wait to act until everything's perfect, we'll never get anything done...)But many people want to reach out in a more personal way. I get that. It's like giving my kids money for a gift- it may be the most needed, but it's nice to give something more personal too. So maybe cash now, quilt later.

  5. I saw some similar thing locally. "Send lap quilts to Japan" Why? If you're gonna go to the effort, make it big enough to be a real blanket for someone to actually use!

    Kathy, Please say that putting a 50 cent can of food in a $12.95 FedEx box with a $2 can opener is a joke. If not, those QA ladies must surely have been huffing their June Tailor Spray baste.

    @Anonymous - I guess it comes down to whether you want to actually do some good for people in need or just give yourself some warm fuzzies and some new fabric.

    If it is an emergency, I hope to shout that someone sends me some doctors and the red cross. I won't need a quilt 6 weeks from Tuesday after I already starved to death or bled out.

  6. Thank you, Kathleen, for your intelligent, common sense thoughts on this situation. I agree that quilts are the last thing in the world that people who have been devasted by a disaster would be in need of. Donations to an organization of your choice is much more efficient.

  7. Locals get a quilt if I can get it there easily ... otherwise money is what is required, but many of the groups who are pretty much first on site need the money before an event so they have a wharehouse full of medical supplies, tents, bedding, food, etc ready to pick up and deliver as quickly as possible.

    Red Cross were criticised in Australia when they used money donated to the then current emergency to restock for the next ... so who paid for the tents, clothing and food thay had on the ground within hours? And if they didn't use the money being donated then to restock,who would pay for the next lot?

    As for lap quilts in Japan ... it is snowing,so what is the good of a lap quilt? Give a full size quilt to your nearest emergency group who can use it to keep someone warm in the next disaster!

    Judy B

  8. I must admit to being highly amused that an internet troll called you an internet troll :P

  9. geezzz..some get quite touchy...I agree that sending $$'s is the BEST to do! Well said post, Kathy!

  10. I belong to the 'give money' school of help and agree with Katy's sentiments totally. Yes, there is an issue when you respond to a particular disaster and it does not feel that the money is going to that place. One way round this is to give regularly to a charity of your choice,knowing that the money will make its way to the latest disaster. Having given to the Red Cross for specific disasters after Haiti we opted for a smaller charity, Shelterbox, which began as a Rotary initiative here in Cornwall. We know that their overheads are low and their ability to respond very quick. We now pay them a set amount each month. I am originally from New Zealand so I have also made a bigger one-off donation to the official fund for the Christchurch earthquake. I would like to have been able to give to a more targeted fund for the poorer areas of the city but that is impossible from abroad and at least this way they get more from a UK tax break called Gift Aid. New Zealand is a culture where you give practical help e.g. food after a bereavement, and I realise that the quilt instinct is similar to that but keep practical help for local emergencies.

  11. I make a lot of service quilts but I prefer to give them locally. There are plenty of people in my community in need. Last year alone there were 25 kids at the high school classified as homeless and/or pregnant. The United Way Women's Shelter has a program to train women and upon graduation, the women have a small unfurnished apt to lease. I try to make quilts for them so they have something on their beds.

    It doesn't take much effort to find genuine need (for quilts) at home.

  12. I agree with you about this. I'm sure that the quilts people (including my guild) sent out after 9/11 ended up in landfills. However, I don't agree about your quarrel with the Red Cross. If the Red Cross got too much money after 9/11, what should they have done with it? It seems to me that by using it for other causes they were just doing what you praise Doctors without Borders for doing.

    I posted this the other day but it apparently didn't take because I didn't wait for the second screen to appear. Did you know your blog shows the entry twice?

  13. Hi Kay! I don't recall the specifics of my beef with the Red Cross 10 years ago, but it also had to do with bad management in some local chapters, mishandling of blood banks, and other unhappy episodes. So I switched to other charities.

    I think that if you believe in an organization and its goals, it's better to give unrestricted funds than to earmark. However, if people do give earmarked funds, I think it's the duty of the charity to follow their wishes.