MAHONING COUNTY Relief efforts combine

The idea is to coordinate the flow of donated goods to a disaster site.
YOUNGSTOWN -- When disaster strikes, soap, ice, canned food, water, clothing, blankets and other goods are welcome donations for victims.
But for emergency responders, those donations sometimes cause delays in actually getting help to the victims.
The Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency and Second Harvest Foodbank have reached an agreement that should prevent donations from causing grief instead of relief.
In a disaster, especially a large-scale one that draws widespread media attention, people and groups from outside the affected area tend to send a wide variety of items to the disaster area, believing they will help victims, said Walter Duzzny, EMA director.
But what often happens is that relief workers get sidetracked with having to check, sort and stack those items, taking time away from their relief efforts, Duzzny said.
When the flow of donations into a disaster site goes unchecked, the well-intended gifts can sometimes just further congest an already busy area, he said.
"Wrong trucks arrive at the wrong places or at the wrong times. Manpower is wasted by sorting, separating, and in many cases, disposing of inappropriate donations," Duzzny said.
Without a coordinated effort to keep track of what's been donated and where it's being kept, items can sometimes be misplaced or not distributed as quickly as they should be.
The county's donation management agreement will put Second Harvest in charge of receiving, sorting and distributing the relief items, taking the job out of the hands of relief workers, Duzzny said.
If a disaster strikes in the county, donations would be taken either to Second Harvest's main facility on Midlothian Boulevard or to an alternative site set up by Second Harvest, such as the Canfield Fairgrounds.
'Common sense'
"They've got forklifts, they've got pallets, and they've got people accustomed to doing this kind of thing," Duzzny said. "If for no other reason, we need to do this because it passes the common sense test."
Michael Iberis, Second Harvest executive director, said the facility has 16,000 square feet of warehousing space and a staff capable of handling the donations.
"We have been here for many years serving community based groups," Iberis said. "We have the internal capability should the need arise in a disaster situation."
Duzzny said the EMA and Second Harvest will coordinate their efforts to ensure that volunteer services are coordinated and donations get into the hands of those who need them.

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