My friend and customer Pastor Brad Williams dropped this in the comments of my roundup of relief agencies on the ground in the disaster area (and you can still give to one of those agencies, btw -- they still need help):
This is far worse than most people realize. We have over 200 New Orleans residents staying here in our local high school. They are devastated. They've lost everything.Well, it turns out I have some experience with this. Back in the late 90's, there was a blizzard in Upstate NY -- particularly the Adirondacks region -- which knocked out power for everything north of Albany into Montreal. At that time, I was the GM of a SAM'S Club, and my Director of Operations got on the phone with the Home Office to do what any sane person would do: supply the things people needed most. In this case, it translated into Coleman generators -- 3 truckloads of Coleman generators.
We are currently gathering as many of the basic necessities as we can to bring them there to donate. Please give to the Red Cross or SBC. The needs are overwhelming.
Just as a footnote, as I hurriedly write this off, Wal-Mart refused to discount anything for us. That seriously irked me. They told me that "they had already given". It strikes me as evil to max out profit on suffering people.
Before anyone thinks that we gave them away, we didn't: we sold them at the exact same retail we had them marked the day before. We ordered them on a Friday and they showed up on a Sunday -- and I remember that clearly because of what happened next.
On Sunday morning, I opened the store because I knew we were going to have a "rush" on generators, and it would have been wrong to stick one of my assistant managers with the burden of dealing with cold, scared, frankly-desperate people who just want to make sure they don't freeze to death in their homes. Sure enough, when I got there at 7 AM (we opened at 10 AM), there were already people standing in the parking lot, and the Coleman truck was parked in the receiving bay.
I let the folks who were there in, told them that we had generators, and that we would give everyone a chance to buy one. One. That made one fella pretty angry because he wanted 5 -- all that would fit in his truck.
"well," I said, "if after everyone who came down here to get a generator has one and there are some left over, you can buy more than one." His response, to say the least, was hardly Christian. See: the thing he thought I didn't know or wouldn't care about was this: rather than looting taking place north of Albany, gouging was taking place north of Albany. The Coleman 5000W generator could fetch $2000-$4000 in Saranac Lake or Lake Placid or (where we had a club that was in very dire straits) Plattsburg -- maybe more if you could get to Montreal. We were selling them for $499. He could write a check today for $2000 and make $7500 before dinner if he was clever and maybe $17,500 is he was patient.
We had 30 generators, and we were going to sell them for $499 to the first 30 human beings standing in line -- less 4 we promised to one of the fire departments from the disaster area which would be there at 4 PM to pick them up. So my plan, barring a riot, was to sell 26 people generators. And we were going to wait until 3 PM to do it in order to make sure that all the people making the trip would have a chance to get what they needed.
When we opened at 10 AM, the line was about 20 people deep, and I had made a flier for my door greeter to hand out explaining what we were doing. We offered coffee and snacks to the travelers, and we asked them to sit down and wait. Most of them did.
Some of them went next door to the National Home Improvement SuperStore Chain when they opened at 11 AM, and the scene was very different: nobody was enforcing rules about generators, and people were walking out with as many as they could carry -- at $695 a piece. In NY State, it's illegal to price gouge (yes, I know the link points to a 2003 memo P.R. from Pataki; it's the best I could do on short notice) -- meaning those who charge more than 2x the normal market price for an item in times of emergency are breaking the law. So our neighbor didn't break the law. How nice for them.
Anyway, by 3 PM, we had about 24 people lined up, and we unloaded the truck, checked them all out (with and without membership cards, than you), and sent them home with generators. We didn't give them away, but we didn't take advantage of them, either.
That very long short story is to say this: it's not necessarily evil to charge someone what it actually costs to deliver goods to them, especially if it is what you have always been doing since you opened your doors to do what you do. I appreciate Brad's frustration and his anger. I understand that people are completely and utterly wiped out. The other side of the coin is this blog entry from Michelle Malkin, of which one highlight reads:
Those trapped in the city faced an increasingly lawless environment, as law enforcement agencies found themselves overwhelmed with widespread looting. Looters swarmed the Wal-mart on Tchoupitoulas Street, often bypassing the food and drink section to steal wide-screen TVs, jewelry, bicycles and computers. Watching the sordid display and shaking his head in disgust, one firefighter said of the scene: "ItÂs a f---- hurricane, what are you do with a basketball goal?" Police regained control at about 3 p.m., after clearing the store with armed patrol. One shotgun-toting Third District detective described the looting as "ferocious."So while WMT may not be handing out its cans of corn and loaves of bread, it also is facing its own problems. <SARCASM> I'm sure unionized workers would have done a much better job protecting their work site than these ununionized workers did </SARCASM>, but WAL*MART is taking as great a hit in this region as anyone. More than 80 stores are closed due to this catastrophe.
FWIW, WAL*MART didn't leave its hands in its pockets on the first pass in this disaster.