Monday, May 17, 2010

Today's Ethical/Moral Dilemma/Struggle

Today I am having a problem with monetary donations and how they are allocated. (God I'm already falling asleep just writing that! I'm going to try not to make this too boring. Promise.) By now most people around the country know that Nashville had some major flooding a couple of weeks ago (and if you don't, well, turn on the news once in a while). The images are still shocking, and I live here- so I should be used to it. Just driving to the grocery store today I saw a whole row of houses with piles of ruined housing components by the curb, and huge storage pods in the front yards. Everyone needs help with basics like food, clothing, water, and shelter. But they also need other important support like good old fashioned physical labor, and tools.
There is so much disagreement over the best way to donate money to flood victims. Nashville is generally not a flood prone area so pretty much no one has flood insurance that will cover the damage. And we're talking big damage- floors, drywall, insulation, duct work, heat and A/C units, kitchen cabinets, plumbing, furniture... there's a lot of stuff that has to be ripped out and replaced or at the very least inspected for damage.
Some people say that giving directly to big organizations like the Red Cross isn't the best thing because the money won't go to Tennessee flood victims- instead it will go to the next major disaster. Well I can't agree with that because I asked specifically when I called them whether or not the money would stay/come back to the area, and I was assured that it would. Then there are smaller operations for collecting money, and what's going on in my office is a great example of that. Several of my coworkers were impacted by flooding in a big way, and so my HR department is taking donations (cash and gift cards) for them. Well that's awesome but how in the world will they decide who gets what? I mean if there's a single person renting an apartment vs. a single mother with 5 kids who lost her whole house... who deserves what? How do you break that down?
And then there's part of me (and I know I could get some serious hate for this) that knows that Nashvillians are generally pretty lucky. We live in The United States of America- when you compare the US to many other parts of the world, undeveloped nations in particular, well, we're already very well taken care of whether we think we are or not. We're a rich nation. We live in a city that is very proud of its heritage and there have already been 2 televised fundraisers to raise money for flood victims. Huge corporations just kept handing over huge checks last night at the Music City Keep On Playin' telethon. Now I am not saying that there weren't some very poor people who were impacted by the flooding here, but I keep comparing the damage to, say, Haiti. Now that is some destruction that won't be fixed for a very very long time. There are people in Haiti who are still in tents. There's a huge oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico- that could turn into a massive natural disaster beyond anything anyone can anticipate. What is the priority? Is it the local problem because my friends and neighbors have been impacted, or is it where the most suffering and damage is?
So is my money really better off going to flood victims? Or to international organizations that will do more for the very poorest people in the world who are REALLY in trouble? Or to cleanup and environmental issues in the Gulf? Do I give to the local food bank or do I give to the Red Cross? (I've done both, I couldn't make up my mind.) Do I give to the fund at work or do I give to established organizations that know how to allocate funds in the most effective way possible? (That answer should be obvious.) Do I volunteer at the community center or do I grab some gloves and wheelbarrow and actually HELP? There are so many options, but I am only one person with limited resources. It is easy to feel like anything I do isn't enough. Then I struggle with the fact that we've already got so much here in Middle Tennessee- I'm not sure if my money is doing the most it can if it stays here. I want to help in my own community (the basic human instinct to take care of your own has been strongly demonstrated in our neck of the woods lately), but I also feel like I am a member of the global community too.

How do you choose? How do you know what's best? And who needs the most help? And who decides that? There are a lot of questions going through my head tonight, and there aren't any easy answers.

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