Faced with mind-boggling and persistent commodity shortages across the global economy, even aid organizations like food banks and clothing distributors are caught in chaos. Many are struggling to get what they need, which amplifies the shortage in vulnerable communities.
In Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, an effort to increase household incomes faces a new problem stemming from the disruption of the global supply chain – a shortage of shoes.
The Haitian American Caucus, a non-profit organization, imports donated used shoes from the United States and sells them cheaply to women who sell them on sidewalks and in markets, earning crucial money for their families. .
The caucus distributes nearly 100,000 pairs of shoes a month, but it could handle four times as many if just more inventory arrived, said executive director Samuel Darguin.
âThis pair of shoes is so much more,â he said. “It represents a mother who can send a child to school, who can afford health care and feed her family maybe two meals a day instead of one.”
Two years after the start of a relentless pandemic, the global economy remains inundated with logistical challenges. Factories in Asia are struggling to meet demand for their products. Ports lack sea containers and healthy hands to unload them. The trucks idle for lack of drivers, with warehouses overflowed with goods.
This upheaval may seem like a long way from Haiti, but it helps explain why Mr. Darguin’s program expects more shoes
Already this year Haiti has suffered a catastrophic earthquake and presidential assassination, not to mention a deadly pandemic combined with the stresses of daily life in a country where people cannot take anything for granted. The great supply chain disruption is now adding to the tension.
Mr Darguin’s shoe supplier, a Nashville-based nonprofit called Soles4Souls, itself suffers from shoe shortages as manufacturers who donate inventory hold more in a frantic attempt to keep customers happy. by retail.
The disruption of the global supply chain continues to be a serious problem for multinational brands who sell goods to customers and for buyers who cannot get what they want, be it timber, new cars or exercise bikes. But product shortages and shipping barriers have proven to be so persistent and pervasive that they also plague organizations that depend on donated goods. Their problems highlight how supply chain disorder spreads over vast distances, reaching an aid pipeline that is normally invisible to the rest of the world.
Huge retailers like Target, Nike, and Home Depot – all of which have recognized shelf storage issues – can afford to stock merchandise. And they can pay extra to make sure their products go on overbooked freighters, even as fares on routes from China to the US west coast have increased tenfold during the pandemic.
But non-profit organizations lack such resources. They are like economy class passengers stuck in an airport after a snowstorm, watching first class customers take all available seats.
In Jacksonville, Florida, Teri Ketchum, Executive Director of Presbyterian Social Ministries, collects donated children’s clothing and distributes it to community organizations in her area and throughout the Philippines.
Last year, with people trapped at home in pandemic lockdowns, many emptied basements and closets, creating a wave of donated clothes. This year, as schools reopened, demand for children’s clothing exhausted Ms. Ketchum’s supply.
âAt least once a week, a local partner calls to say, ‘Do you have children’s clothes?
Business and Economy
The shortages coincide with the end of many government relief programs for people whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic – like emergency unemployment benefits and moratoriums on evictions protecting those behind on their rent. .
âIf people were struggling before, they’re just at their lowest right now,â Ms. Ketchum said. âNow it’s ‘Do I buy food or do I buy clothes?’ Clothes are the last thing a parent who’s ever stretched out is going to do.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee oversees a food distribution operation serving approximately 400,000 people in 46 counties, drawing on donations from grocery stores in the area. Second Harvest also distributes cheaply purchased food to sister organizations across the country.
During the first waves of the pandemic, as families in confinement at home cooked more, demand for groceries skyrocketed, depleting local supermarket shelves and resulting in fewer donations. This prompted Second Harvest to buy more groceries.
But given the shortage of supplies, the organization had to expand its horizons considerably, bringing in pasta and macaroni and cheese from Thailand and India.
In recent months, Second Harvest has moved back to domestic suppliers, but it still encountered delays in its orders as food processors are slowed down by difficulties importing ingredients.
Unable to find low-sodium green beans – a popular article – Second Harvest distributed the regular variety instead, while advising recipients who need to watch their salt intake to rinse the beans before cooking. When canning shortages made it impossible to purchase spaghetti sauce, Second Harvest found a restaurant supplier who had additional volumes of bulk sauce packaged in plastic bags.
âWe have a pasta trailer that has to go to Denver, and it’s two weeks late,â said Nancy Keil, president and CEO of the organization. âIt’s like a moving target. You don’t know where you’re going to be running next.
In Nashville, Soles4Souls – the organization that delivers Mr. Darguin’s program in Haiti – was forced to scale back its plans to distribute shoes to homeless children in schools across the United States.
Known as 4EveryKid, the program aimed to distribute 75,000 pairs of shoes to homeless students this year, but lowered the target to 50,000.
âSome kids don’t come to school if they don’t have a pair of shoes to wear, especially when the weather gets really bad,â said Cathy Klein, Homeless Coordinator for Milwaukee Public Schools, who expects to receive 1,000 pairs. shoes this year through the 4EveryKid program.
Soles4Souls depends on contributions of new shoes from major shoe companies. As companies struggled to fulfill orders from retailers, they sharply reduced their charitable contributions.
âTypically we get excess product,â said Rod Arnold, Soles4Souls Marketing Director. âEveryone just says, ‘We sell anything we can get our hands on.’ “
Earlier this year, a shortage of sea containers at Chinese ports slowed the loading of factory goods while increasing shipping costs. Then came the closure of the Suez Canal, a major corridor connecting Asia to Europe. Since May, Chinese authorities have temporarily closed operations at two major container ports.
In recent weeks, Vietnam – a major shoe maker – has imposed a strict lockdown to quell the spread of the coronavirus. This halted production while delaying the shipment of the finished shoes.
âWhat we hear from our partners and donors is, ‘We want to help you. We believe in what you do. There just isn’t the product. We don’t have it, âsaid Buddy Teaster, CEO of Soles4Souls. “They have other things that they prioritize.”
There’s also soaring trucking costs, which hamper shipments of used shoes like those destined for Haiti.
Before the pandemic, moving a shoe truck from California to the main warehouse in Soles4Souls in Alabama cost $ 2,500 and may take four days, Teaster said. Now it costs up to $ 7,000 and can take two weeks.
The same dynamic on the ocean has sabotaged the functioning of Soles4Souls partners around the world.
The organization has often served as a matchmaker, negotiating shipments of batches of mislabeled shoes and clothing from factories in Asia to thrift stores in Transnistria, a breakaway state in Moldova. Thrift stores offer careers to young people who grew up in orphanages.
But as the price of shipping a container from Vietnam to Ukraine has quintupled, thrift stores have had to sharply cut back on their purchases.
âThe nonprofit is literally at the end of the line in terms of what we can afford,â said Mike Shirey, COO of Soles4Souls. “People are no longer bringing in the quantities of goods they used to bring.”