Get what you give

We're on touchy territory with this discussion of how to help out in our current predicament -- without getting into the right or wrong of it all, and without tripping the "support our troops" hot wire. (Too late.) Don't let people back you into a corner on this one.

Case in point: A well-meaning, big-hearted person asks another person in the neighborhood to write a check to a third party for $20 to support our troops. Where's this money going? "Snacks ... for soldiers ... not chocolate ... might melt ... desert." When I ask for someone to call me with details, please, she's not feeling my support for the troops. I served as a military wife and have firefighters in the family. The peer pressure almost gets to me, but the checkbook stays closed. A trace of guilt lingers for letting the troops down in the eyes of my neighbor.

Another case in point: A well-meaning, big-hearted person asks another person in the office to donate items for shoe boxes to be mailed to soldiers in the Middle East -- like eye drops, newspapers, personal wipes; no porn. That very morning, the maps under a pundit's pointer on TV were full of flame icons where ships with water, food and medicine were supposed to dock. Nothing was getting through.

Does the government really want us sending wipes to the troops? Nope. It clogs the mail system and poses security issues. Most of it's likely to end up as rat food in a warehouse somewhere -- but that's not official.

In not-so-many words, that's what Maria Yarbrudy at the American Red Cross of Central Florida reports. "Ninety-five percent of calls that we are receiving are from people who want to set up collection stations," she says. "The logistics are complicated; it's just not feasible." There's no room for storing stuff, the cost of shipping is prohibitive, and there's no guarantee of delivery on the other end. That's why the government asked the American Red Cross not to overload the mail service and complicate security.

There's no question that, for bravery alone, American troops deserve extra stuff. But they are cared for by our tax dollars and are doing OK. Their families are cared for by our tax dollars, too. In addition, the local American Red Cross and the Christian Service Center raise funds for special circumstances.

One thing learned post-9/11 is that there is a day of reckoning for donations. Yarbrudy makes clear that contributions to the American Red Cross can be earmarked for differing projects, including separate local, national and international disaster relief funds.

But it doesn't take a military analyst to see the bloody need in Iraq itself. Humanitarian and development aid are the targets for the American Red Cross' Iraq Crisis Relief & Recovery fund. Diplomatically, Yarbrudy says that all funds need donations. But is anyone else wondering how the women and children are faring in a country where men and money do the talking? There's been a suspicious absence of everyday women in the war coverage; the same for the word "rape." There is so much more unthinkable suffering yet to be uncovered.

Information on Iraq Crisis Relief & Recovery can be accessed online at the local chapter ( or the national office ( There are also suggestions on how to help sans money or merchandise, such as writing e-mails to family members of the military and other outreaches.

This is not to criticize quick-responding, ad-hoc groups who've sent shoe boxes or the like. Brian Snyder of the Orange County Clerk of Courts office proudly helped implement the "We Care" program. It started as a family thing among his co-workers, who shared names of servicemen they knew were overseas. Donations came in, boxes were shipped off last week, and now they're smartly waiting to see what happens before they send more. Snyder found that, overwhelmingly, people want to give; they just need direction.

Those wary of sending resources overseas can concentrate on the home front. Justin Campfield at the Heart of United Way says that many local reservists called into action were active volunteers in the community. Nonprofits are now shorthanded and desperate for workers to fill the holes (contact Volunteer Central Florida Campfield says the missing manpower is only part of the increased demand his organization's services, which are backed by fund-raising campaigns. The top-three requests in our community are rent, utility and food assistance.

The economic times are "uncertain," agrees Charlie Sloan, executive vice president of Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. "Some businesses are delaying decisions because of that uncertainty, and those decisions usually require them to spend capital and invest in new production. And that new production is what puts people to work.

"If that uncertainty is taken away, hopefully there will be a rebound -- hopefully the proverbial bottom is one we've seen and is past tense," says Sloan. But we've got to maintain on two levels, he says, letting the war ride out its course and continuing to adjust to the cautious post-9/11 environment.

More hardship's likely on its way, so don't feel pressured into blind support of anything, even our troops. There's plenty of giving yet to be done. And you can't tell a philanthrope by her cover.