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  • Guidelines for Managing Donations During a Crisis Situation

    As the Superintendent/Principal in Moonachie when Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, I was faced with the challenge of temporarily relocating our 280 students and 70 staff members to the Wood-Ridge Public Schools and one of the South Bergen Jointure Commission locations for eight weeks. Close to three feet of water had invaded Moonachie’s single school building, and many residents’ homes were either damaged or destroyed. The school was closed for reconstruction until July 2013.

    During that time period, we received numerous donations from very generous people and organizations. While I hope no other community has to endure a crisis of this magnitude, there are some strategies for facilitating donations that other school administrators may find helpful.

    First, we received so many calls and offers of donations that I needed to appoint someone to field the calls and accept the items. This prevented us from having too many of one item and from receiving items we did not need. For example, our first goal was to provide coats for every student who needed one, as we had children coming to school without them. We quickly realized, however, that several staff members were trying to arrange for this, and we ran the risk of having too many coats. As another example, someone kindly wanted to donate ink cartridges, but those cartridges were not compatible with our computers. A third example was a truckload of used chairs and desks that showed up one day. While we appreciated the thought, our chairs and desks were being cleaned by our disaster company, and we did not need those items. 

    Second, finding storage for the donations that we received quickly became an issue. We had limited space in our temporary locations, and people were dropping items off for us by the car load. Fortunately, a storage facility offered us rent-free use of a storage locker, and our disaster company enabled us to use one of the numerous storage pods that they had on site at our damaged school. Our custodians made multiple trips from our temporary sites to these storage facilities to store donated items.

    Third, we needed to keep our focus on the fact that we had insurance and the cost of replacing items that were lost or damaged would be reimbursed. The general rule of thumb, as explained by our insurance adjuster, was we would be covered only for expenses that we would not have incurred had it not been for the storm. We needed to be ethical in our practices and not solicit donations for items that were covered under our insurance policy. This was repeatedly stressed to the staff members as well.

    Finally, we received many donations of gift cards for food and clothing stores, but they posed the dilemma of determining how to equitably distribute them to the students. It was decided we would partner with the town, who had appointed representatives to see to it that the neediest residents received the most relief.

    In conclusion, advice to any other Superintendent who is faced with a community disaster is to immediately put someone in charge of the relief efforts. I was receiving about 75 phone calls per day related to the cleaning efforts of the damaged school, the construction of a temporary modular school the Moonachie School property, and the logistics of moving our students and staff members to different locations. The amount of work in the initial weeks after the storm was challenging, and I needed to delegate tasks to trusted employees in order to be successful.