September 17, 2005

Katrina Need: Planning and Coordinating For Stuff

CNN had a depressing feature last night on the mountains of garbage bags filled with piles of used clothes that are washing up in the Gulf, donated by people from all over the country but doing no good at all. These huge piles of castoffs are filling church basements and warehouses; there's no time to sort them and no way to deliver all this stuff to people who might want it. It's going to end up as garbage.

Take some really wonderful, thoughtful gifts -- a hundred nice cashmere turtlenecks, say, that might be terrific for people who have always lived in New Orleans and who are about to experience November in New England. Mix them with ten thousand other thoughtful gifts, toss well in garbage bags and trucks, and you've got charity junk.

Buying new isn't a great answer, either -- especially when a big chunk of everything we buy new goes into the pockets of Mr. Walmart.

The best solution is to help specific people with specific needs. For example, Grace Davis points to some Chicagoans who are driving down to Mississippi with a truck of helpful stuff. Matt Nalett needs some help with the gas. Easy enough. Won't wind up paying for the 700 Club or for the Republican Election Campaign -- and if it isn't well spent, you know who to see about it.

The answer:

We need better web infrastructure for matching needs and willing hands. C'mon, guys: a couple of days with mySQL and Rails should be more than enough.