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Disaster relief failure: lack of appropriate clothing distribution

Posted by on Nov 7, 2012 |

FEMA failure: lack of appropriate clothing distribution

My recent experience volunteering with FEMA at the Coney Island distribution center was largely positive.

However, I was deeply disturbed by one particular observation. Amidst all the standardized relief supplies (much-needed MREs and water alongside clean up kits designed for single family homes that went to people in high-rise public housing), it pained me to hear requests for things that FEMA was short on: warm clothes and blankets.

The single shipment of shrink-wrapped Red Cross blankets went in a flash.

Nevertheless, we received bag after bag of privately donated clothing, blankets, pillows and tarps. The pile grew throughout the day, but we didn’t have enough volunteer workers to sort through it for distribution.

     Shivering disaster victims should not be scavenging clothing donations like sewer rats

Ok, disaster victims, time to scavenge like rats

As the pile amassed, storm victims started to come around the side of our distribution tables to pick through the clothing donations. Suzanne, our organizer from the Mayor’s Office, said uh uh no way no how. Her plan was to distribute all the other supplies, clean the place up and leave. At that point, it would be ok for disaster victims to scavenge the pile.


First, it was dark.
Second, most of the people we served that day got to us on special city buses. These special rounds ended once our distribution time was up. So how were people to get here?
Third, leaving that enormous pile of needed items simply flew in the face of all those donors’ good intentions. Disaster victims do not need to be scavenging like rats when they’re wet and freezing cold.

My enterprise-wide solution

The Mayor’s Office needs to set up a hub and spoke distribution center specifically for clothing donations. With proper sorting, we can efficiently match the needs of disaster victims to donations from thousands upon thousands.