Non-profits facing too many of some donations, not enough of others after Harvey

Austin-area non-profits ask people to stop donating clothes, focus on other needed items

Supplies at an Austin Disaster Relief Network drop-off site ready to be delivered to Harvey flood victims. (KXAN/Jorge Rodas)
Supplies at an Austin Disaster Relief Network drop-off site ready to be delivered to Harvey flood victims. (KXAN/Jorge Rodas)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In Central Texas, donations have been pouring in from people who want to help those hit by Hurricane Harvey. In Austin, non-profits say they’ve been inundated with donations. Those relief groups say while the generosity is needed, some donations can hinder efforts to help.

Daniel Geraci, executive director of the Austin Disaster Relief Network says the network of churches is at capacity for clothing donations.

“We have mounds and mounds and mounds that are being sorted,” Geraci said. “Clothing is always one of the easiest things to give away, and we tend to get a whole lot during disasters, but there is also a time when there’s got to be a cut off point or it can become a second disaster for all of us.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler echoed Geraci, saying there’s not enough space for continued clothing donations.

“Clothing that people are gathering, they don’t even have a place to put it right now,” Adler said. “It’s not going to be a need for several months.”

Geraci says storm victims don’t have anywhere to put furniture or large amounts of clothing right now, because they’re still displaced. Currently, many of those donations are taking up room that could be used to store items needed in the more immediate future.

The Austin Disaster Relief Network says sleeping bags, air mattresses, lip balm, hand sanitizer and building supplies like hammers and crowbars are the most needed donations right now. The city of Austin is also asking for people to donate new toys for children staying in shelters.

“The first responders and our emergency people are coming to me and saying this is what we need, and over time, if those needs change and they need something else in the future, then we’ll move to that,” Mayor Adler said.

Meanwhile, warehouse after warehouse is filling up with donations, and that’s putting a strain on some Austin-area non-profits.

Lakeway City Council member Jim Powell runs Christian Compassion Center, or C3, a non-profit that takes in truck loads of overstock items from major corporations like The Home Depot, Buy Buy Baby and Bed Bath & Beyond, then delivers them to people in need. In the coming weeks, Powell says he’ll have opportunities to collect supplies for people trying to rebuild on the coast.

“Composition roofing shingles, Hardie siding, ceramic floor tile, that’s the type of goods that we’re talking about for the rebuilding effort,” Powell said. “Plus, we’re able to pick up cabinets from The Home Depot, sinks, and just a wide variety of different items that people are going to need to rebuild.”

Generally, Powell’s organization loads such supplies up and immediately takes them to areas in need.

“But there would be more opportunities for us to take these truckloads if we had a warehouse of our own here in central Austin,” Powell said.

Because it will take some time for rebuilding efforts on the coast and in Houston to begin, he needs a place to store the supplies for a few months.

“This is going to be a marathon,” Powell said. “This effort is going to take months for those people to get back in their homes.”

Currently, Christian Compassion Center only has a small 600-square-foot overflow storage space for storage. The non-profit usually depends on area churches that are willing to provide storage space, but because they’ve been inundated with other donations, they’re mostly full.

“We literally have hours to respond if we’re going to accept the goods,” Powell said, of situations in which calls come in saying major corporations are willing to donate, “And if we don’t, well, then they’re on to the next phone call to some other part of the country.”

Powell’s hoping to find someone willing to donate some extra warehouse space.

“What we really need is a warehouse in the 10,000 to 20,000-square-foot range with dock high doors,” he said. “We need a dock high door and fork lift to unload the merchandise. A donation of space would be great, even if it’s just through this disaster. If somebody wants to donate a warehouse, we would take it wherever we could get it.”

City leaders say it’s crucial that people living in central Texas listen to the needs of local non-profits and spread their generosity in ways that will help the most over the next several months.

Groups like Christian Compassion Center and Austin Disaster Relief Network say cash donations are always the best means for doing the most to help those in need after major natural disasters like Harvey.

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