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Donations can cause supply chain disruptions in neighborhood stores

This is a situation where good intentions can unintentionally cause problems in a local community. What are the unintended consequences of an act of goodwill?

As a local community pastor, I probably receive 2-3 emails or calls per day from nonprofits and agencies asking for supply donations from folks in the community. These requests encompass everything from food, water, PPE, hand sanitizer, diapers, formula, TOILET PAPER, etc. I know many of you receive the same type of requests.

We all want to help! We all NEED to help in some way. However, we need to think through how to help the RIGHT way.

Under normal conditions (non-COVID-19), local stores and supermarkets are very well stocked with essential items. When you or I go to the store, we can buy as much as we need in the full knowledge that what we take off the shelf will be replaced within hours.

You’ve probably noticed the phrase ‘Supply Chain’ mentioned more and more by the media and government officials. The supply chain starts where a product is sourced like a farm or manufacturer. Those goods make their way to distribution centers and then onto the shelves of neighborhood stores where you and I can purchase them.

The COVID-19 Crisis changed everything.

COVID-19 created a panic, which caused people to purchase more essential items and thus putting stress on the supply chain.

What does all this have to do with nonprofits and agencies asking me and you to donate essential items?

Well, unless you and I have a surplus of essential items in our homes to donate, we typically go to our local store to purchase those items. Then we donate them to the organization that is requesting them. While the intention is good and noble, there are unintended consequences.

This can cause supply disruptions in neighborhood stores.

When I go to my local neighborhood store to buy additional items to donate to an agency in need, I am taking those essential items off the shelf at a time when supply chains are stretched thin. Restocking those items may take days rather than hours depending on the item and location of the store.

There are those in our neighborhoods who depend on the availability of essential items in local stores. The elderly couple on fixed income may be able to go to the store once per week to purchase essential items. If I purchase items before they do with the intent of donating them to another area of need in my community, I’ve unintentionally created a problem – a disruption for that elderly couple. They must go without or ask for help.

Again, we’re all trying to help. But we need to be thoughtful of how we help and source supplies in this current COVID-19 crisis because supply chains are crucial on a micro-level.

How can we help the right way? I have a couple ideas.

1. If you want to donate essential items, give from your stockpile first instead of going to your local store. Even a few cans of food, a box of formula, etc can go a long way to helping a family in need.

2. If you do purchase from a local store, limit your purchase to a couple items to donate. Make sure to leave something on the shelves for others in your community.

3. Call your local store manager and ask them when they restock and time your visit. Again, limit your purchases.

4. Instead of donating essential items, ask the nonprofit or agency if you can donate money. Encourage them to source their needs at the distributor level instead of the neighborhood level. Big box stores and grocers will often help nonprofits source much needed items.

5. Help your community nonprofits connect with larger nonprofits and community resources that have access to distributors higher up the supply chain. Organizations like the United Way, Salvation Army and local food banks have greater supply chain access. Collaboration is everything.  Help organizations work together to solve problems and ensure supplies get to the front lines the right way while preserving supplies in neighborhoods.

I hope this is helpful in helping you think through how we can avoid causing disruptions in local supply chains. Your elderly and immune-compromised neighbors with benefit from thoughtful giving.


Read previous post: A Church Without Walls – Serving Others
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