Humanitarian Resource Institute:  A U.S. & International Resource on the Scope of Humanitarian Assistance
July 21, 2003

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The 1993 "Run Across America for Community Service" brought the topic of grass roots initiatives to the United States radar screen.  The national distribution of the booklet "How to Help Hunger & Homelessness in America", spotlighted the "Senior Gleaners," a tax-exempt, non profit corporation; a member of the Second Harvest Food Bank Network program, who provided a new reference point for the meaning of grass roots potential.  Under the auspices of their model program:

"Volunteers salvage surplus food products from farmers, supermarkets and other suppliers to meet the needs of hungry people in their region of Northern California.

From 1984 through 1991, Senior Gleaners provided 108,000,000 pounds of food to seven food banks and 90 service groups--- a program worth $69,800,000! They are composed of 2,000 senior citizens, all volunteers.  They do not receive 
financial support from any government agency or the United Way."

In the context of the same model, on a global scale,  the IRIN report "SWAZILAND: Model for grassroots humanitarian participation - WFP" illustrates the same potential:

"The small Southern African kingdom of Swaziland, hit by three consecutive years of food shortages, has emerged as something of a model for grassroots participation in tackling emergencies.

"Swaziland, despite its size, can teach the world lessons about addressing problems through community solutions," World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu told IRIN in an interview.

Visiting the country last week on an inspection tour of food security projects, Sisulu, a former South African diplomat, said some of the innovations she witnessed - the integration of traditional values with 21st century management and technology - might find their way into WFP policy."


In Branford, Connecticut (New Haven Register), the state’s budget crisis will force financially depleted Harbor Health Services Inc. to lay off its entire staff in the coming weeks, leaving its 700 clients along the Shoreline with sharply curtailed mental health and addiction services.  In Milford, Connecticut, the nonprofit organization Bridges, Inc. has persuaded its bankers to extend its credit line as a temporary solution, allowing the organization to operate through the end of August.

This scenario, though bleak as it sounds, reflects the challenges facing nonprofit organizations in communities across America.  As states and municipalities face a crippling budget crisis requiring systemic changes, the challenge of "unmet needs to untapped resources" again enters the spotlight.

In 1994, Humanitarian Resource Institute was formed with a primary mission to bridge unmet community needs to untapped resources of professional time, talents, manpower,  inkind and financial contributions (America's Action Plan for Community Service).

Unfortunately umbrella organizations and the  interfaith community from the local level to National Conference of Churches stood up in protest of the concept.

The problem was that the umbrella organizations did not want to disrupt their constituencies with such concerns as unmet needs in their community.  The goal of contributions from payroll deduction plans and fundraising campaigns were only guaranteed if these organizations legitimized their existence by positive information flow  as to how all the needs were being met.  Unmet needs did not fit into this strategic objective.  If the frontline programs moved out to pursue such a course on their own, they were threatened with economic consequences.

When church organizations were presented with the mission objective, the view was clear.  We have no interest in any information source associated with funds, resources or volunteerism reaching our constituencies that would obstruct our institutional objectives.  This message was loud and clear from the National Council of Churches to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD - Arm of the interfaith community to help the disadvantaged, that is when there is a disaster).

So despite, 10 years of efforts to organize unmet needs coordinators in every county region in the United States, partnership with the Youth Service America "ServeNet" initiative, and assistance from National 4H (National 4H Council News: Helping Communities Save Millions of Dollars Through Donations of Professional Time, Talents, Manpower and In-Kind Donations), the simple strategy to bridge unmet needs to untapped resources, has proved next to impossible..

Faced with the challenge of no outside funding for close to 10 years, the staff at Humanitarian Resource Institute completely understands the meaning of dedication, focus, creativity and drive.  The message to those committed to helping the suffering and afflicted, rich and poor, is found in the words of Winston Churchill:  "Never Give Up, Never, Never Give Up, Never, Never, Never Give Up.

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