Okay, I was all ready to knock socks for Japan. The whole idea seems kind of silly. Mailing socks to Japan? It’s taking plenty of criticism on Twitter for sheer foolishness. And I stand by the idea that it’s at least a little silly. People who need socks would be better served by proper relief shipments of more than just socks.

The idea is based on the symbolism of direct relief, of letting the people of Japan know that they are cared for and not abandoned. So, I was going to say: the symbolism of these socks would be better served by letters. The organizer of Socks for Japan was already suggesting that donors include care letters with the socks. Perhaps the most important part of the package is the letter? A flood of caring letters to Japan wouldn’t clog ports and post offices in the way that a lot of packages of socks would. Right now, the logistics for Japan need to be as clear and fast as possible. A bunch of small, individually wrapped packages might be exactly the kind of thing that gums up a post office with bigger things to do.

And then I saw this, on the Socks for Japan site: “At 10 am Friday, the Ibaragi Prefectural Government Department of Health and Welfare called to request that we deliver socks immediately. ‘We have no socks,’ the representative said.” So, apparently, professional relief isn’t getting to the places that Socks for Japan is working. It might well be better, but it’s not there.

And I saw this ‘…Before we started, we checked with the postal service to be sure our area could receive packages without harming relief efforts. They said yes. We asked if an enormous volume of packages from all over the world would hamper the operations of the postal service. They were confused by the question, finally explaining, “Of course not. What do you think we do every day?” When we double-checked by saying that possibly thousands of packages will be involved, they assured us that they can handle anything. After a chorus of critics said the post office was wrong, we returned to the main office in Sano on March 17 to be sure nothing had changed.’ That essentially disproves my second concern.

Nothing about Socks for Japan meets my normal criteria for a good relief group. They’re small, they started in response to the current disaster, and they have no real experience in humanitarian response. But they’ve chosen a small niche, in a small geographic area, and they’re getting it right. They really seem to have it under control.

Socks for Japan might not be my charity of choice for helping in Japan. But I’m not going to mock you if they’re yours.

(photo credit: darkmoon)

Get occasional updates from UN Dispatch

* indicates required

Want Our Social Media List?