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Monday, July 14, 2014

To best help Greensburg, donate cash

BY STAN FINGER
The Wichita Eagle

The semis are arriving in Greensburg from around the country, bulging with donations for the folks whose hometown was wiped out by a tornado.

But there are no buildings left in Greensburg that could store the donations, and officials say so many trailers have come that there is no more space for them in nearby Haviland or Pratt. As more trailers arrive, they are being diverted to Wichita -- 115 miles to Greensburg's east.

"People are well-meaning, but it causes concern at the other end when there's no place to put things," said Sharon Watson, director of public affairs at the Kansas adjutant general's department.

"Greensburg has no place to store them."

Social service agencies are struggling to find a way to direct assistance and contributions without stifling the spirit of giving that has blossomed since the Kiowa County town of about 1,400 people was decimated May 4 by an EF5 tornado estimated to be 1.7 miles wide.

"It is, indeed, a problem," Salvation Army spokesman Tim Brown said Monday. "It's been a real concern for us so far."

Officials have begun discouraging people from making what they call "in-kind donations" -- such as clothing, water, furniture and other items lost in the tornado -- because of the logistical challenges they present.

Many people who lost their homes are staying with family and friends, in motels or other temporary situations, and have nowhere to put furniture and other household goods.

"It's difficult to warehouse all of that," Brown said. "There just aren't the buildings out there to be able to warehouse things."

Trucks will be diverted to the Kansas Foodbank Warehouse, 1919 E. Douglas, and other Wichita locations as needs dictate, officials said.

"But then you have a whole new set of problems," Brown said. "You're 115 miles from where it needs to be, and how do you get it there?"

Brown said he has been telling organizations wanting to donate clothing, furniture, toys and other items to hold garage sales and send the money raised.

"It almost hurts people's feelings to hear that," he said.

But agreements with a variety of retailers allow the Salvation Army to purchase products at discounts the public can't get.

"If you give me $5, I can buy five cases of bottled water," not just one, Brown said.

The state adjutant general's office is encouraging people who want to help with Greensburg's recovery to donate money rather than items.

"You don't want to turn people down," Brown said. "They really do mean well. Their hearts are in the right places, and they really do want to help."

The Salvation Army has already given out more than $100,000 in vouchers to survivors of the tornado, including $25,000 in gas cards from Koch Industries.

Brown called that "a huge help" for the victims, most of whom have to drive long distances to Greensburg from where they're now staying.

"That adds up in a hurry," he said, particularly with gas prices above $3 a gallon.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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