Unwanted donations causing another disaster for Hurricane Sandy relief workers


A woman rides her bicycle through a flooded street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy caused extensive damage in the area on October 30, 2012 in New York.


Spencer Platt

Believe it or not, people who lost their homes in Superstorm Sandy have little use for vases or vacuum cleaners. Those are some of the unwanted donations cited by the Associated Press, which relief workers say is helping create a "second disaster after the disaster." Relief groups want cash, or "very specific things" according to the AP. But getting too much unwanted stuff only overwhelms the workers.

"It's really been a lot of stuff really affecting the disaster site," James McGowan, the associate director of partnerships at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, told the AP. "They're just showing up and they're not coordinated with the agencies."

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In a Los Angeles Times op-ed last week, José Holguín-Veras, an engineering professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Disaster Research Roundtable, echoed those sentiments. "Unsolicited donations are seldom useful and often burdensome. The best estimates available suggest that about 60 percent of the supplies that arrive at a disaster site are not beneficial to the survivors and should not have been sent," he wrote. Moreover, he said, unloading or disposing of the unwanted stuff can waste relief workers' time. Instead, he suggests selling your unwanted stuff in a yard sale, and then giving the relief workers the money you earned.