A couple of days ago, my oldest son brought home a note from school urging students bring in any of a number of items -- diapers, candles, flashlights, batteries, etc. -- and donate them to help tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. The school plans to ship all of the goods received to Sri Lanka at the end of this week.
After reading it, I found myself somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, I think it's is admirable to help people in distress, and I want to impart that idea to my son. On the other hand, this way of going about helping them seems so damned inefficient. Scores of parents are going to individually head out to stores and buy these items at retail prices. Their kids will haul them to school, where someone will have to package them all up, and then the school will have to pay to ship this fairly small collection of goods to the Indian Ocean.
Wouldn't people who want to help out get a lot more bang for their buck by simply giving money to some agency that can buy large quantities of these things at wholesale prices and ship them in bulk? Yes, bringing in specific items may make the kids feel more connected to the situation, but is the goal to feel charitable or to help people who are suffering as much as possible?
Oh, the burdens of having a parent who understands some economics!