'Bear' necessities not always welcome

/ Source: NBC News

"I feel like no good deed goes unpunished," said a frustrated Dr. Stephen Bacque. 

With over 1,000 teddy bears taking up space at an elementary school in Linden, N.J., Bacque felt as though he was disappointing hundreds of children and parents who hoped to bring happiness to the young victims of the tsunami disaster.

At School No. 1 in Linden, underneath a banner reading "Operation Teddy Bear Headquarters," donations poured in, but no organization would accept the donations, leaving Bacque and the school's principal, Diana Brastdead, in an "un-bear-able" predicament. 

Despite the number of highly publicized telethons, donation drives, and pleas for help from celebrities and formers presidents, some Americans have found non-governmental organizations (NGOs) unreceptive to their "gifts" — unaware of the fact that most aid groups simply want cold hard cash.

In the case of the bears, a savior was eventually found, but only after a good deal of heartache.

Not recognizing needs
Part of the problem is that Americans are not aware of what the NGOs do in the devastated areas, and what their needs are.

The reluctance to embrace in-kind donations stems from organizational infrastructures put into place decades ago, combined with a desire to remain within the constraints of their own area of expertise, according to Laura Contreras, a spokeswoman for UNICEF.

International NGOs mainly function to help redevelop devastated areas through rebuilding communities, proving clean water, life-saving medicines and stimulating the local economy.  

"While we are very grateful for what people want to do, we have to consider what is best for the world's children,” Contreras said. “We just need to raise funds so we can continue to do our work. And you will find that with most established organizations."

Trying to teach lesson of giving
Though some parents understand the NGOs stance, it does little to change their opinion that American children need to feel like they are making a difference.

Gleshia Givens, president of the PTA at School No. 1 in Linden, where her daughter Alexis attends said, "The kids can't relate to monetary value because it doesn't hold as dear to them.

"They feel more connected by giving teddy bears with notes attached because they know that kids without parents can hold onto these teddy bears when they need someone so they know somebody cares about them," Givens said.

Although Jackie Flowers, an American Red Cross spokesperson, admits that the generosity of Americans was overwhelming, she said people may not be aware of the complexities involved in helping victims in the devastated countries.

"Americans are so generous in times of disaster, but in-kind donations pose difficulties in terms of us dealing with logistic issues when the infrastructure of these countries has been destroyed,” Flowers said.

Another reason NGOs reject in-kind donations is that personal goods are often procured locally to provide an economic boost to a devastated area.

"It is very heartwarming. Especially with them wanting to give something of such sentimental value as a teddy bear," Flowers said. "But I think that spirit of generosity of caring for people around the globe can be applied to many things.”

Undaunted by the setback, students at School No.1 went ahead and also raised over $200 for tsunami victims in India through financial donations.

"I believe in my children doing community service, and this endeavor means a lot more to the students than simply sending in money from their piggy banks," Brastdead said.

"They are researching and learning what is happening. And this seems to be hitting them on another level."

In addition, they were happy when their bear quandary was resolved when Kiwanis International, another large NGO, heard about the school project and offered to ship the teddy bears to their outpost in Sri Lanka.