The best help comes from home.
When local residents need assistance, whether it is in the form of clothes, shelter, a meal or money, it carries greater meaning when the donations come from their community. That benevolence is an investment in making their community a better place, in creating a better environment and more opportunity for a neighbor.
I won’t pretend that someone truly in need would turn down assistance from outside sources – federal aid programs are keeping many area families going – but a look around Sedalia and Pettis County will reveal plentiful programs and agencies that provide for people’s basic needs.
This past week, a couple of stories reminded me of the value of our local support network. Both stories are frustrating and drive home my contention that the best help comes from home.
Planet Aid has dropped hideous yellow collection boxes throughout our community. The charity contends the clothing donations help support its health and education efforts in Africa, but a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting claims that the Teachers Group, under which Planet Aid operates, is a cult-like operation tied to a Danish native who is wanted for embezzlement and tax evasion.
In one of the stories, reporters Matt Smith, Amy Walters and Kandani Ngwira wrote: “Farmers who were promised help from Planet Aid say they have been shortchanged yet were told to put a happy face on their projects. Interviews in Africa show a Planet Aid subcontractor controlled by Teachers Group members would steer visiting auditors to Potemkin village farms that looked prosperous but were merely for show. … Instead of improved irrigation, freshly planted trees, livestock, better yields and higher income … farmers in the district say one goat and one pig were all that ever arrived, and both died before they could reproduce.”
Planet Aid has denied the allegations. In a post on snopes.com, Planet Aid President Ester Neltrup said, “All money Planet Aid receives from donations and from U.S. government grants goes directly to support our development work around the globe.”
Who do you believe? Here is a better question: Why would you drop clothing donations into a Planet Aid box when you can take them to Open Door Service Center right here in Sedalia and support a local outreach effort? Open Door and other agencies under the Sedalia-Pettis County United Way umbrella are vetted each year by local professionals. There is nothing wrong with supporting efforts to improve the lives of people overseas, but if you choose to do so, be certain your donations are helping those in need and not lining the pockets of administrators.
The other story was the report by the Democrat’s Nicole Cooke on a meeting between a Salvation Army official and local stakeholders about the faith-based charity’s future in Sedalia. If the responses from Maj. Phil Aho of the Salvation Army’s Midland Division are any indication, that future lies somewhere between vague and bleak.
Aho noted that the local Salvation Army would shift from being a “corps” to a service center. His explanation of that change would be amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic. As Cooke reported, Aho said: “The question will be, what goes on in the Service Center? It’s a very good question. My answer to you is, we don’t fully know yet.”
Thankfully, Sedalia-Pettis County United Way Executive Director Staci Harrison challenged Aho to provide answers instead of more questions. The most immediate issue is the loss of the Salvation Army soup kitchen, which feeds about 50 people each day. A suggestion: If you donated to Salvation Army in the past, give to the Community Cafe going forward to support its meal program. Everything about the cafe, from its creation by Smith-Cotton student Kristen Allcorn to the volunteers who provide the meals each day, is local.
Sedalia is a community with a giving heart, a fact that is proven regularly. These stories shouldn’t change that commitment to help others, but they should raise questions about the commitment of the groups receiving your donations.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.