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.