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Donations To Relieve Peru Are Cause Of Discussion

Our article, Earthquake In Peru Prompts Appeal For Help To Farm Workers There, led to a piece entitled, Pundit’s Mailbag — Tents Needed In Peru. Simultaneously we ran a piece entitled Sun-World Launches Peru Earthquake Relief Program. All of which has brought about a flurry of activity.

We are still hopeful that Wal-Mart, Target, Fred Meyer or another organization that has access to tents will consider sending some to Miami as a donation. The Peruvian produce industry will take it from there.

In the meantime though — and remember these decisions are not produce or perishable-department decisions in most of these large retailers — individual employees of these organizations, and others, are standing up to do what they can. When we pointed out that tents were needed, this Wal-Mart executive, acting in a personal capacity, showed a big heart:

As an individual, I have a five-person tent that’s just collecting dust. Where do I send it?


— Denny Berry
QC Regional Manager
DC’s 6084, 6090, 6907, 7013, 7018, 7021, 7025, 7048, & 7077
Wal-Mart DC 7048
McCarran, Nevada

It seems a small thing — a tent, not being used — to send it on. Yet the truth is that if every tent in America that is sitting unused was sent to Peru, they would have a surplus of tents.

One of the things Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart has written is that “…as we continue to grow around the world, it is always our goal to be a valuable member of each of those communities. We want our neighbors to see, understand and be a part of the positive impact Wal-Mart has everywhere we operate.”

Partly neighbors judge Wal-Mart on what it, as a corporation, does. Yet they also look to the contribution each associate makes to the local community and the broader world we live in.

Having people like Denny Berry as part of its team gives Wal-Mart a big edge. We appreciate the contribution and hope others will be inspired by this simple act of kindness and generosity.

Another act of generosity and useful contribution came via Nancy Tucker of PMA:

It has been great to see the concern that you all have voiced regarding the impact of the earthquake on the industry and people of Peru. Our members in that country have told us that while their business operations are very functional, there is a huge need for support to help thousands of farm workers and others rebuild their homes and their lives.

We asked our members and colleagues in Peru how we might best support the rebuilding efforts in the country. We learned that many of the commodity groups (asparagus, citrus, etc.) are engaged in valiant efforts to help their workers. However, many of our contacts recommended that we support an organization called Caritas (more information at ) that is very engaged in responding to this disaster. Information on their efforts can be found here:

PMA has a long tradition of supporting our members in times of special humanitarian need — whether it be from hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, freezes, etc. — both in the U.S. and abroad. PMA is donating $1000 to Caritas for relief efforts in Peru and offers the information about this organization for other companies to consider if they wish to support these efforts.

— Nancy J. Tucker, CAE
Vice President, Global Business Development
Produce Marketing Association
Newark, Delaware USA

Many people are looking for the right mechanism to donate and Nancy is telling us that PMA’s Peruvian membership is recommending Caritas. Caritas is an umbrella for numerous Catholic relief agencies, but it helps people without regard to religion. In fact, Caritas makes a point of noting that the Jewish community of Peru, backed by both Jewish organizations in many countries and the Israeli government, is working with Caritas to funnel aid to survivors of the earthquake in Peru.

The $1,000 donation is about right. The purpose of trade associations is to do for the industry, collectively, what companies cannot do so well themselves. A donation of this size expresses the trade’s collective concern while still expecting companies and individuals to do the heavy lifting and to make judgments about what is the correct use of funds.

The Pundit would like to match PMA’s donation and so is sending a personal check to Nancy Tucker of PMA, made out to Caritas, in the amount of $1,000. We make this donation in honor of the generosity of our Pundit readers and in the hope of helping to alleviate the suffering in Peru.

It was Bruce McEvoy of Seald Sweet who launched an industry appeal on this matter and kicked off our discussion. Nancy’s sharing of the Caritas information provides help to those industry members looking to donate.

Yet donating to Caritas or CARE or any other general relief organization does not really address the provision of aid specifically to farm workers or to others related to the produce industry. After Nancy sent out her Caritas information, Bruce responded by thanking Nancy for doing that work and then he went on to follow up on his appeal:

I’m going to continue the dialogue with our colleagues in order to further explore what the broader produce industry might do to support the relief efforts in Peru. I want to address awareness of the need, and the importance of simplicity in fundraising.

If you are not directly involved in production or sourcing produce from Peru, you are probably aware of the tragedy, but the details can be overshadowed by other daily issues and concerns. We have to find a way to get the facts to the industry, in order to trigger that latent compassion and generosity which resides in all our industry friends, the willingness to support a humanitarian relief effort.

In 2004 the PMA allowed me to address the International Forum in order to position for the trade the post-hurricane situation in Florida. We used very simple and factual sound bites of what happened, and we certainly had no need to exaggerate. You could hear a pin drop in the room, and many of our friends had tears in their eyes in learning the true extent of the damage, particularly the number of displaced farm workers. Immediately following the session, a number of retailers promised to support special promotion features as a source of fundraising. Other companies suggested donations from established foundations within the industry, and of course there were personal gifts

Once the industry is focused on a campaign, for example, raise $1 million for Farm Worker Housing Relief and Child Care, the process has to be simple and clear. What registered Foundation will hold the funds and contributions? How will the funds be used? Who will have oversight on the actual use of relief funds? Following the 2004 hurricanes, we lost valuable time and probably significant donations because we couldn’t tell a retail partner or other donors where to send the contribution. Finally, we were able to host this special Farm Worker Relief Fund within the registered foundation of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

I dwell on the need for an umbrella industry effort since the situation in Peru mirrors our experience in Florida. A natural disaster that touched the hearts of people around the world, and relief was instantaneous. Yet when the headlines were gone from the front pages, thousands of farm workers and their families were still homeless. That’s when we need to reinvigorate hope! Perhaps we have one Peru Day in October to conduct fundraising and to elevate the need.

We certainly can get the message out through friends in press, but there is still the need for that industry umbrella. As I’ve stated previously, this is beyond the scope of one company. It needs a proactive industry or time will solve the problem.

As always, I look forward to your insights.

— Bruce McEvoy
Seald Sweet LLC
Vero Beach, Florida

Bruce McEvoy certainly merits a humanitarian award for his diligence in trying to help both alleviate suffering in Peru and to help the industry develop a mechanism to deal with a similar crisis in the future.

He also is spot on in pointing out that this type of relief effort often peters out, and the suffering continues long after the TV cameras have moved on to other events.

Perhaps PMA could help by compiling a list of all industry-affiliated charitable trusts and foundations, with a description of sponsors, purpose, scope, etc. This way, in the event of a natural disaster, those looking to arrange donations would have an instant directory of who might be in-sync — just as the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association was a reasonable place to look to host a fund to help farm workers.

It is a difficult issue for many reasons: First, although Peru is obviously a serious natural disaster. It is not the only one. Jamaica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Dominica are now suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Dean. The Associated Press is producing stories with titles like this: Hurricane Dean Leaves Thousands of Caribbean Banana Workers Unemployed and Hurricane Dean Destroys Banana Crops In Jamaica and Dominica.

We mention this not to in any way minimize the suffering in Peru but simply to point out that there is much suffering in the world, and it is not clear that a trade association should be involved in actively urging its members to fund one relief campaign over another.

For that matter, although alleviating suffering is a worthy cause, it is not the only worthy cause, and if a company or an individual decided to dedicate their charitable work toward curing cancer or some other cause, we would be loathe to pressure them to switch their charity to crisis relief.

We can certainly perceive a role for a trade association in facilitating private charity that its members wish to conduct. The compilation of a compendium of charitable trusts and foundations is that type of work. Another option is to do what Nancy did in response to member requests, calling PMA’s members in Peru to find out who is credible as a recipient of charity, etc. If a foundation decided to conduct a “Peru Day,” a trade association could certainly inform its membership.

Yet it strikes us as problematic for a national trade association itself to take the lead in organizing any of this. On what basis would it decide a Peru Day is justified and a Jamaica Day is not? What happens when a member points out that the government in country X is corrupt and skimming off the charity funds?

Possibly we could consider the use of the PMA Educational Foundation as a conduit for the funds. Yet even that raises questions, assuming the papers are set up that it is even legal to do relief efforts or serve as charitable conduits:

First, we are not sure why we would bother. The PMA Educational Foundation has no expertise in relief efforts, so all it would do is give the money to, in this case, Caritas or some other charity on the ground in Peru or to the Peruvian government. Why not cut out the middle man and just post on PMA’s web site that for those interested in donating, here are two or three organizations that PMA’s members in that country or in that facet of the business are recommending as a conduit for charitable donations?

Second, there are legal issues. Once that money comes into a foundation, the board of that foundation has fiduciary obligations toward those funds. If there was to be a conflict between the donors — who after all are just looking for a conduit — and the board on how the money should be spent, it could sour the atmosphere for the foundation’s own fund raising.

Third, it will inevitably be a distraction from an educational foundation’s intended purpose. Staff time, lawyers and accountants — all working on something that is not the purpose of the organization.

Fourth, aid is not easy, and conflicts will inevitably arise. If the same earthquake had occurred in Venezuela, run by a political enemy of the United States, what aid we ought to provide, how it should be provided, all this would be hotly controversial. Once the crisis is past, aiding overseas farm workers could be seen as a kind of subsidy that helps a foreign grower compete against a U.S. grower.

Fifth, it will confuse donors. The educational foundation of a trade association is going to go out to foundations, government groups, private individuals and others for grants. When they review the expenditures of the foundation, they will find some kind of unusual educational and relief agency hybrid, and it will probably scare good donor sources away.

We suspect that with so many aid organizations existing, in the vast majority of cases, those interested in doing so can quickly identify one to give donations. In cases where a foundation is required to hold money while its disposition is being arranged, there are many existing trusts and foundations to work with.

If there is a need for a national entity, we would suggest setting up an independent foundation dedicated to relief purposes. Perhaps it could be called “Produce Cares” or something like that. It could help migrant farm workers in the U.S. and aid in a crisis such as exists in Peru.

Importantly, it would be dedicated to this function, have a board and staff focused on this function and keep the conflicts intrinsic in the relief business, tightly contained.

Many thanks to Denny Berry, Nancy Tucker and Bruce McEvoy for helping us advance the industry discussion on this issue.

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