There has been an enormous outpouring of support for Australians affected by the bushfires, with individuals and businesses alike donating many millions of dollars to charities in recent days, volunteering their time and sending much-needed goods and supplies to evacuation centres. But already, some say, these good intentions are having knock-on effects that could be hurting relief efforts.
It is the typical trajectory after a natural disaster, according to Alison Covington, managing director of Good360, an Australian nonprofit that helps retailers donate excess goods to charities.
People see horrific images on the news and social media and want to do something to help. They might decide to donate used clothing, food or hygiene products – all practical items for people who have lost their homes, but often they arrive in such large quantities, or at the wrong time or location, as to be more of a logistical burden than a help.
According to Covington, a significant portion of these donations end up in landfill because charities don’t have the resources to store them.
And even those who deliberately donate money rather than material goods tend to support the same half-dozen charities everyone is familiar with, leaving smaller regional charities, which, in this case, have an intimate understanding of the needs of bushfire-affected communities, out in the cold.
“Good intentions need to be managed,” Covington told Inside Retail on Monday. “We need to get this right and not waste resources.”
More than 2000 local charities
On Wednesday, Good360 announced a partnership with the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) to manage and coordinate the delivery of non-food donations to people affected by the bushfire crisis across Australia over the coming days, weeks and months.
With connections to more than 2000 local charities, the nonprofit sees itself as a sort of switchboard operator – listening to the needs of charities and connecting them with retailers that have the goods.
“This is our area of expertise – getting the right goods to the right people at the right time,” Covington said. “Please let us be the marketplace to manage it.”
Covington is urging all retailers that want to support bushfire-affected communities to pledge their support to Good360. The more businesses that join a centralised effort, the more efficient the distribution of donations will be, she argues.
“The really important thing is to figure out how we can collaborate rather than replicate,” she said.
Businesses that have already pledged their support include Big W, Harvey Norman, L’Oreal Australia, Universal Store, Catch.com.au, Dreambaby, Linen House, Moose Toys, the National Retail Association and the ARA.
Goodman Group, which supplies Good360 with warehouse and office space, has pledged its continued support, and DHL has pledged its support to help deliver donated items to affected communities wherever possible, free of charge.
However, distribution costs remain a challenge, and Good360 is seeking additional support from freight companies.
Long-term support needed
The nonprofit is also accepting financial donations from individuals and companies to assist with the increased cost of operations during the crisis, which Covington warns will last far longer than many people realise.
“Part of what we’re doing is educating [businesses] that we need to stay with these people for many years,” she said.
This is another unfortunate aspect of the typical response to natural disasters. As soon as the immediate crisis is over, the media and those who were not directly affected move on. Ironically, this is when many of those unnecessary items that tend to clog up evacuation centres in the initial days of the crisis are actually needed.
By pledging their support to Good360, retailers can stay involved in recovery efforts over the long run. Donations from furniture and appliance retailers, for instance, may not be needed until people are rebuilding their homes, which could be years from now.
“There are many phases of a disaster. It’s not all now,” Covington said.
Want to get pledge your support? Visit Good360.org.au.