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Generous but useless donations flood wildfire evacuation centers. Here’s what to send

See parts of Butte County ravaged by the Camp Fire

Sacramento Bee photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. captures video of Paradise and other Butte County towns that have been ravaged by the Camp Fire.
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Sacramento Bee photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. captures video of Paradise and other Butte County towns that have been ravaged by the Camp Fire.

When evacuation centers aiding California residents fleeing the rapacious Camp Fire put out a call for donations, people responded. And responded, and responded, and responded.

Now center coordinators are asking donors to stop sending supplies, reported The Redding Record-Searchlight.

“We have buildings full of stuff,” said Kathy Ingvoldsen at the Butte County Fairgrounds, according to the publication. “In four hours, we filled up a 5,000-square-foot building full of clothes. They’re stacked up on tables five feet high.”

Other well-meaning but misguided donors are inundating evacuation centers with used, unneeded or useless goods, reported The Redding Record-Searchlight.

“The impulse from people to help is incredible; it’s very strong, but the best way to do so is by donating through the Habitat for Humanity fundraiser or through the Red Cross,” said Chuck Smith, public information officer for Sutter County, which also has opened a shelter, reported The Marysville Appeal-Democrat.

“Cash donations and gift cards offer more flexibility,” Smith said, according to the publication. “Gift cards to places like Target or Walmart can help someone buy clothes or other items they might have left out of their go-bags.”

Gift cards for gas stations, supermarkets and pharmacies also can be useful for evacuees, said Stephanie Hayden, of Hope Center, which organizes donations in Oroville, California, reported The Redding Record-Searchlight.

Hayden said shelters do still need some specific items, such as new underclothes — particularly for women — backpacks, duffle bags and luggage, reported the publication.

The Camp Fire, which erupted Thursday in Butte County, has burned 113,000 acres, killed 29 people and destroyed 6,453 homes as of Monday morning, reported the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection.

The fire virtually wiped the foothill town of Paradise off the map, sending thousands of residents fleeing to evacuation centers.

Relief workers call the all-but-inevitable avalanche of generous but useless donations following a fire, flood or hurricane “the second disaster,” reported National Public Radio.

Meghan O’Hara with the American Red Cross recalls receiving a box of donated Frisbees from Germany as she oversaw relief efforts in earthquake-shattered Haiti in 2010, NPR reported.

“Wow. That $60 or $70 could have been sent to so many different organizations to help out in so many different ways, and now we have a box of Frisbees,” O’Hara said, according to the station.

Writing on Medium, Karen Merzenich described volunteering at an evacuation center following the devastating 2017 fires in Napa and Santa Rosa, California.

“I spent a fulfilling day… boxing up literally thousands of surplus donations of deodorant and toothpaste,” she wrote. “Around noon, I suggested to the organizers that they might want to start turning away donations. ‘Did you know we’ve received at least 2,000 sticks of deodorant?’ I asked.

By the time she left for the day, the shelter housing about 100 people had received 5,000 toothbrushes and 3,000 sticks of deodorant, Merzenich wrote.

Following the 2014 Boles Fire, which swept through the Siskiyou County town of Weed, relief workers had to send at least two big-rigs of donated, but useless or unneeded, supplies to a landfill, reported The Sacramento Bee.

“They literally couldn’t give it away, which is sad,” Kerry Caranci, chief executive officer of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation, told the publication.

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