No more truckloads of stuff, please. Send cash.
That's the word from distribution outlets and others focused upon helping storm-ravaged Joplin. Indeed, supplies flowed in from across Missouri, nearby Oklahoma and Arkansas, and from across the country almost immediately after nature's crushing blow on May 22.
The video and still images coming out of the city of 50,000 in the southwest corner of Missouri were heart-rending. Those who have made day trips or longer visits to help with debris removal, feeding, childcare, counseling, organizing of supplies, etc., say what they saw was just as bad as that portrayed in the media.
Devastating weather events like these in Joplin, in Sedalia, in St. Louis, in central Oklahoma, and in Alabama and surrounding states prompted immediate heartfelt response. Concerned people rushed to grocery and discount stores to pick up bottled water, disposable diapers and other items that survivors might need, then dropped them off at local distribution centers to be trucked in and handed out. A lot of volunteers accompanied the trucks, which apparently arrived in droves.
The response to Joplin probably has been the most significant of areas hit by tornadoes, perhaps because 153 people lost their lives and the tornado raked homes, businesses, churches, schools and a hospital off a land area of 4-5 square miles through the middle of town. Devastation and death were concentrated.
Last week, word came that many of the supplies still coming to Joplin were being forwarded to Oklahoma City to help people in that area. Joplin couldn't handle any more -- a testament to overwhelming response but also to needs in other affected communities.
But the continuing need, leaders say, is cash.
Giving money seems impersonal, in a way, but from the start those leading relief efforts on the ground were suggesting this was the most efficient and flexible way to give, especially in a situation that will require long-term assistance such as in Joplin. And especially because needed supplies were readily available within reasonable driving distance from any direction.
There is a lesson here. A good infrastructure of local, state and national relief agencies, certainly bolstered by healthy and motivated congregations of various faiths, makes provision of funds the most efficient and flexible way to resource Joplin's recovery and therefore the best way. That is likely true of other areas, too.
Outside volunteers will continue to be welcomed, but churches and individuals can assist most strategically and most effectively by querying local congregations and coordinating visits with them, or with conventions and fellowships already linked with these congregations.
Compassion in action is a humbling thing to behold. Ultimately, compassionate response will change places like Joplin more than the most devastating natural disaster. It is already happening.