It's important to give your time to help the community, but also important to know with whom you are dealing. As someone raised to trust people, and give them the benefit of the doubt, I've recently had to learn this lesson the hard way.
During a November 2013 grassroots effort, to collect relief goods for Typhoon Haiyan victims in the Philippines, I was asked to volunteer to help with media outreach by a friend, who told me that they had secured a C130 military plane to transport the goods.
She assured me that everything was legit and that this plane was scheduled to arrive within the next 48 hours to O'Hare Airport to pick up the cargo. Because I believed, and trusted, her, I agreed to help. I helped to secure a venue for the collections (the landmark Rizal Center), and agreed to inform the media about the relief effort.
All of Chicago's television stations came to cover the story. As a result, thousands of donors dropped off clothing, canned food, and medical supplies. More than 500 volunteers, dubbed 'Help for Haiyan Chicago,' by the original organizers, many asked to volunteer through social media, donated hours of time sorting, packing, and loading boxes.
In the following days, the so-called schedule for the C130 plane kept getting postponed. This was causing me a lot of concern, since it was my responsibility to inform the press. By the third day, we discovered that the statement of the original organizers ― that they had secured a military C130 to pick up the goods collected ― was completely false. We also found out that, in fact, there had never been such a plane. They had lied to us, and to the public, and continued to do so, for the duration of the relief effort.
Having lost trust with them, several of us volunteers broke away, and assumed the responsibility of sending the collected relief goods to the Philippines. With the help of the Governor of Illinois, senators, congresspeople, and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), we managed the logistics for the shipment of the remaining 64 tons of relief supplies to typhoon survivors in the Philippines ― eight 40-foot shipping containers.
Although all of the goods have been distributed, thanks to several non-profit and religious charitable organizations which accepted the goods when they arrived, this story does not end well. More than a year since this effort, the struggle to try and extract the truth continues. The financial accountability of one female volunteer, in particular, another woman who was advising her, remains in question.
In late February 2014, we entrusted one female volunteer with $10,000 of cash collected at the same relief effort. Her instructions were simple ― use the money to ship three of the eight arriving containers to three other islands, and disburse the rest of the money to families with immediate needs such as food and housing. All we asked of her was to provide receipts documenting how the cash was spent. Because receipts may not easily be available in a typhoon-ravaged region, she was instructed to take a photograph of the recipient, and ask them to sign a form that we created, where they can add contact information so that the donation could be verified. After a week of cooperating, this woman, and another who was advising her, stopped sending information and began putting up obstacles when I asked questions.
Nearly ten months after she received this money, this woman has yet to produce a single receipt. We continue to demand accountability of her actions, but, all of our requests, so far, have been ignored.
We had no choice but to inform proper authorities ― the Office of the Attorney General, and the Cook County Prosecutor's Office ― of these questionable activities so that the she, and those who initially deceived the community, will remain on radar.
Needless to say, I am no longer friends with the woman who got me involved with this effort. I've learned that birds of a feather do flock together. From now on, I will think twice before volunteering my efforts to any group which asks my help. ✿