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FIRST-PERSON: Why give money and not food?

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–The scenes of destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi are harrowing, heart-rending and deeply troubling. Virtually no one could fail to be moved by the devastation of human lives and property we see in television coverage.

For many of us, the first impulse may well be to ponder ways to get food, water and other staples of life to the hardest hit areas. We intensely wish for an instantaneous way to transfer material goods to those in dire circumstances.

So why should one give money instead of food? The simple answer is access.

It’s impossible for any citizen with a generous heart and a decent bank account to enter the neediest areas of the Gulf Coast. Many of the roads are blocked either by debris or for security reasons by the authorities.

But there are organizations that have access to some of the areas. Four of the major players are the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army (TSA) and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

All of these have proven track records. All of them have been recognized widely for their effectiveness both in the current relief effort as well as in past disasters.

Because of this, these organizations can get food and water to storm victims more quickly than, say, a well-meaning individual who strikes out with a full load in a pickup truck, SUV, U-Haul or other reliable means of transporting charitable goods.

Even in those areas such as New Orleans, which at this writing are virtually inaccessible, it will be FEMA, The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and Southern Baptists who will almost certainly gain access first.

One might ask, “Why not simply donate water, food and other staples to these organizations rather than making financial donations?”

The reason is because the kinds of containers needed for water and the types of food needed for mass feeding sites cannot be acquired in retail stores.

The providing of disaster relief on the scale of what is needed in New Orleans, Biloxi and other areas is much more of a science than an art.

As the Red Cross delivers food and Southern Baptist trained volunteers prepare and serve meals, they do so with initial supplies of food that were already in stock and ready for the current disaster. These include such items as thousands of industrial size containers of food that can be efficiently prepared for quick serving to hungry people.

It’s sad but true that the kinds of donations of food that would be collected in a public drive would be random in the selection and ill-suited for use in mass feeding operations.

During relief efforts after Hurricane Dennis in south Alabama, disaster relief workers on one day prepared massive pots of ravioli, each cooking vessel holding several gallons of food.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be if the cooks had to sort through assorted and miscellaneous cans of donated food to try to locate enough of one item to cook for several hundred people for a single meal? Then imagine having to repeat that with each and every meal to be prepared.

The labor needed to open the many smaller type cans that would likely come from public food donations would be extremely time intensive.

But when well-meaning people with generous hearts donate money to these front-line organizations, they are able to buy large food stocks. This enables them to move food quickly from container to cookpot to serving dishes.

This enables feeding operations to continue beyond the few meals that may be prepared from the food on standby for the next disaster.

There are some ministry opportunities across portions of central and north Alabama where food donations may be helpful to assist evacuees and those who are helping them with their lives.

But for those remaining in the tragically impacted Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana, it is only monetary donations that will help at this point and for many weeks to come.

Please consider giving through the disaster relief funds of the North American Mission Board, state conventions and local associations. Each of these will utilize 100 percent of your donations will to help storm victims.

Not a single penny of these donations will be used for any other type of ministry cost related to the operations of the North American Mission Board, state conventions or the many Baptist associations involved.

The best part of donating in this way is that it ensures the love and message of Christ will be shared along with food and water. We know this is true because each Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer is a trained witness who can share Christ as they minister in His name.

Monetary donations ensure this relief can happen sooner rather than later. A generous response will also ensure the food supplies are not quickly depleted and that feeding can continue as long as necessary.

The need for feeding, once begun, will obviously need to continue for a long, long time.
Rick Lance is a state missionary and executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

Relief donations can be made directly to state Baptist conventions, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB donations can be made online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief, by calling 888-571-5895, or by sending a check to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) Disaster Relief at: North American Mission Board Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, Ga. 30368-6543.

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  • Rick Lance