Judy Frank: No Good Deed Goes Uncriticized

Monday, May 2, 2011

You probably heard it about the same time I did.

All those church groups and volunteers trying to help tornado victims have been going about it the wrong way, according to officials in Bradley County .

So much food has been donated that a lot of it is has to be thrown away, they said.

Well gee, that will sure encourage people to get out and help the next time they see somebody hungry, or homeless, or in need of some TLC, won’t it?

But hold on, there’s more.

Social service agencies don’t need any donations except – of course – money, officials went on to say.

Since when?

At Salvation Army headquarters on Inman Street in Cleveland last week, where one heck of a lot of good was being done, that’s not what people were told.

“Bread . . . water . . . food that doesn’t have to be cooked or refrigerated . . . cleaning supplies,” were the stock answers when somebody showed up asking what was needed.

“This goes out as fast as we get it in,” one grateful worker told a man who showed up with a truck holding two pallets of bottled water.

“As soon as we get this unloaded, I’ll go back and get another truckful,” the man replied.

That wasn’t needed?

How many times have we heard public officials lament what they perceive as average citizens’ unwillingness to tackle major issues in their communities instead of asking somebody else – the government, for example – to solve the problems?

Worried about crime on your street, for example? Well, the official response goes, “Start a neighborhood watch. Police can’t be everywhere. They need your help.”

Bothered by the dozens of smelly trucks tearing up the road in front of your house on their way to the ever-expanding landfill encroaching on your neighborhood? Hey, it’s your fault, you put your cans and paper and plastics out in garbage cans instead of hauling them 10 miles or 20 miles or however far it is to the nearest recycling center.

Last week, a lot of people in the Tennessee Valley showed just the kind of initiative officials have been telling them is needed.

Unlike the gawkers who descended on devastated neighborhoods, getting in the way of emergency crews trying to locate and then help the injured, these good Samaritans concentrated on getting food and water and comfort to people they knew needed them.

And now they’re being told they did it all wrong?

Remember 9-11, when the Red Cross broadcast urgent messages pleading for blood donations and people across the nation rushed to respond – only to learn, a month or so later, that all that blood really hadn’t been needed and was just thrown away?

I know people who were so incensed they haven’t given a dime to the Red Cross since that happened.

So yes, Bradley County, coordinate your efforts. Make efficient use of every available resource. Put volunteers where they are most needed.

But before you tell people who went out into devastated neighborhoods and fed hungry men and women and children not to do it again without checking with you first, ask the people who ate that food whether they think that’s good advice.

You could start with the woman one group of volunteers presented with the first food she and her family had seen since heaven knows when – and then apologized because they had run out of plastic silverware by the time they got to her.

“Honey, don’t you apologize,” the woman replied. “I’m so hungry . . . I’ll use my hands.”

Judy Frank

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