- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

First came the floods that devastated New Orleans.

Then came another sort of torrent, one that threatens to overwhelm groups trying to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Call it too much of a good thing: the donations of furniture, toys and clothing — “a Mount Everest” of clothes at the Salvation Army alone — filling warehouses, truck trailers and even churches as people comb their homes for castaway items to send to those who lost everything in the storm.

“It’s sometimes called the second disaster,” said Caryn Gracey Jones of United Way, which is coordinating the acceptance of donations for Denver-area nonprofits.

“We are in crisis mode because we’re trying to find the storage space and manpower to get all this taken care of,” Miss Jones said.

Beth Boone, a public affairs volunteer for the national Red Cross, said it’s an issue across the country. The agency is only accepting cash or orders of bulk goods that meet the hurricane victims’ immediate needs, she said.

In-kind donations — for instance, clothing — can be more trouble than they’re worth.

“The sorting, the cost involved in packaging and distributing smaller receipts like a truckload of toys, is almost greater than the costs of purchasing items locally,” she said.

Agencies find themselves in the awkward position of being both grateful and burdened by people’s generosity.

“We are drowning here,” said Maria Freeman, a volunteer sorting belongings at Denver’s old Lowry Air Force Base hangar that serves as one collection point for donations for Katrina evacuees. About 400 people who fled the storm are staying at dorms in Lowry.

The contents of four trailer-truckloads of donations are stacked 6 feet high in small rooms along one side of the hangar; another warehouse will likely open Friday to accommodate another nine truckloads of goods, said Dale Bonnett, director of Community of Faith United, which is coordinating the Lowry donations.

The volume is beyond the capacity of the 30 to 50 volunteers who show up daily, Mr. Bonnett said. “Most days, I could use 75 to 100 people.”

Likewise, said Maj. Henrik Aalders of the Salvation Army, “If everybody at Lowry came over with a pickup truck, they couldn’t take away everything we have to give them.” The Salvation Army’s main Denver warehouse is so full “we’ve got Mount Everest” in it, he said. Maj. Aalders is asking churches to store overflow donations.

It will cost the organization so much to sort and package clothing and dispose of unusable donations that Salvation Army officials expect they will “probably go $150,000 in the hole this month,” he said.

c Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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