03/30/11 — Officials say money best way to help victims in Japan

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Officials say money best way to help victims in Japan

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on March 30, 2011 1:46 PM


News-Argus Staff Writer

As Japanese officials and scientists continue to deal with the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor stemming from a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, two relief organizations in Wayne County are actively trying to assist impacted residents in Japan.

But officials from M.E.R.C.I. and the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross say the situation in Japan is starkly different from previous natural disasters in Haiti and along the Gulf Coast.

Wayne County Red Cross Executive Director Chuck Waller said the expressed needs of the Japanese differ greatly in substance, specifically in the need for volunteers.

"The Japanese Red Cross is a very, very strong organization with over two million volunteers, so there has not been that call for human resources assistance for people," he said.

Beyond that, the Red Cross has never accepted what Waller called "in kind" donations, which range from non-perishable food to clothing, instead preferring monetary donations that can be converted to meet any needs, which can be fluid, and transported to where the need is greater.

M.E.R.C.I. Chief Executive Officer Charlie Gray said that while his organization does typically accept in-kind donations, the goods are not typically distributed internationally.

"The challenge is to get them to the people," he said, explaining the difference between the logistics of delivering goods to needy areas in the contiguous 48 states and delivering internationally. "With our Katrina situation, which was national disaster, we had plenty of people who were donating trucks and vehicles. We could drive 20 hours and we were in Gulfport, Miss. You can't put stuff on a truck and drive it to Haiti or Japan."

M.E.R.C.I. assistance in Haiti came mostly as a result of the organization already having a presence there.

"It was much more of a natural progression for us to respond there in a higher level because we already had processes in place and literally had people already on the ground there," Gray said, noting that top officials in the organization were there when the earthquake hit, with some of them numbering among the casualties. "It's easier to help your neighbor who lives across town than your neighbor in another country."

It's also easier to help a neighbor who is ill-equipped to help himself, Gray said, pointing out the difference in prosperity between Tokyo and Port-au-Prince.

"(The Japanese) tend to be more resilient," he said. "Japan is not an underdeveloped country, and they are better-equipped to help themselves."

Both the Red Cross and M.E.R.C.I. are accepting monetary donations for Japanese relief efforts.

Waller said funds donated to the Red Cross marked for use for earthquake relief in Japan would go into the international disaster relief fund, which would distribute the funds as needed. He said in the event that there was a surplus of funds for the relief effort, an unlikely possibility, the money would be distributed to other regions where there was a need.

Gray said an account had been established into which donations earmarked for Japan relief would go. Donors need only to mark their checks with a numeric code to verify the money will go to Japan's earthquake relief.

Checks can be dropped off or mailed to the Red Cross office at 600 N. George St. or at the M.E.R.C.I. office at 676 Community Drive or at each organization's respective website. Donations can also be made over the phone and the American Red Cross has a text donation service. Texting REDCROSS to 90999 donates $10 to the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief fund. The donation shows as a charge on your wireless bill or is deducted from your prepaid balance.