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Whenever there's a disaster, people want to give. Hurricane Sandy is no exception. The latest estimates show that U.S. charities collected more than $174 million in storm response donations. But it's not just money that's been pouring in. Relief programs have also received mountains of clothes, food and other supplies, not all of which are needed. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: At an emergency relief site in the devastated town of Sea Bright, New Jersey, volunteers are sorting through piles of clothes, shoes and other supplies.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: This says small jacket, but where are the tops for these?
FESSLER: Piles and piles of supplies.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: ...here and start putting the blankets out and use those boxes...
FESSLER: Similar scenes have been repeated up and down the Jersey Shore, also in New York City and Long Island. Ever since the storm, truckloads of donations have arrived from across the country: food, hats, gloves, shoes, disposable diapers. But people here in Sea Bright seem to want the cleaning products more than anything else.
BOBBY DENT: Some bleach, some, you know, masks. I'm going to try to get down in the crawl space and hit some of the mold.
FESSLER: Bobby Dent and his girlfriend are picking up supplies to deal with the mess that Sandy left in a home they bought just two months before the storm.
DENT: Hey, you do what you got to do and move on, you know.
FESSLER: For relief managers here, the challenge is figuring out how to get the right supplies to the right places at the right time.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'll probably have one of my people get in touch with you, so in the next week or two, we're going to get hammered.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Excellent, excellent.
FESSLER: Right now, in Sea Bright, they clearly have more than they need. And trucks with more donations are on the way from New Hampshire and Vermont. Carlos Rodriquez, who runs the local food bank, offers to help move some of the supplies up the coast, where the need is greater.
CAROLS RODRIGUEZ: And we have plenty to give to make sure we can fill this and other towns north of here, as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Super. That's great. That is really great.
RODRIGUEZ: Good to meet you.
FESSLER: These relief workers say they know people mean well, but sometimes it can be overwhelming to get so much unsolicited help. And there's often waste, like warm blankets donated for disasters in tropical areas or bottles of water sent to places where water is already plentiful. Ross Fraser is with Feeding America, a national network of food banks.
ROSS FRASER: One of the lessons that we learned in Katrina, and all the relief organizations learned is there are many people of good will who want to donate food and coats and other things to people impacted by the storm.
FESSLER: But as in Hurricane Katrina, he says, donated products can often be more of a headache for relief workers than a help.
FRASER: Because they have to make sure all the food that's donated is safe, the packages haven't been compromised. It has to be cleaned and sorted.
FESSLER: And besides, relief agencies say they can get more bang for the buck than the average consumer. Carlos Rodriquez, who runs the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, says he benefits from bulk purchases and special deals with suppliers, like the time he got 61,000 pounds of fresh fish.
RODRIGUEZ: Whiting, pollock, some really good healthy stuff. And all we had to pay was maybe 61 cents a pound to bring it in, in freight costs.
FESSLER: So most relief agencies say the best thing to give is money. That way, they can buy what's needed the most.
ASHLEY MINTON: They helped us, everyone helped us. So thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: You're welcome.
MINTON: Thank you.
FESSLER: But sometimes giving cash can just seem so cold in the aftermath of a disaster. Ashley Minton has arrived at the Sea Bright relief site with bags full of home-baked goods - pumpkin, cranberry and banana muffins and chocolate chip cookies. She wants to thank the National Guardsmen here who helped her when she discovered that her home and everything inside had been destroyed.
MINTON: I was hysterical. And they were there, saying: What more can we do? What more can we move? And we said: What can we do for you for helping? And they said, nothing at all. We're happy to do this.
FESSLER: But she says she couldn't do nothing. So she baked.
Pam Fessler, NPR News.
INSKEEP: Here's another act of kindness for the victims of Sandy. On Thanksgiving, about 5,000 of those hardest-hit by the storm will get to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade up close. New York City and Macy's will distribute tickets for coveted bleacher seats through elected officials whose constituents were worst affected by the storm.
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