From NFL fans dropping money into buckets, to religious groups launching fund-raising campaigns, to motorists handing bills and checks through their windows, thousands are opening their wallets to aid victims of the state’s weeklong wildfire disaster.
A steady stream of cars, motorcycles and trucks flowed into a Staples Center parking lot Wednesday. Drivers stopped just long enough to donate money that Red Cross officials said will soon find its way to fire victims.
Todd Hines of Encino came in an ash-covered sedan, rolled down the window and handed over a $20 bill.
“I know my 20 bucks isn’t going to replace a home, but it’s all I got in my wallet right now,” said Hines, 40. “But start adding to someone else’s $20 and someone else’s $20 and hopefully it will.”
A few minutes later, Andy Camou of Anaheim in a lumbering delivery truck made a detour into the parking lot. Using his steering wheel as a desk, he wrote a $100 check.
“Yeah, things are tight,” he said. “We’re trying to save for a house while living in an apartment, but I think they need this more than I do.”
Then there was the tattooed man in a well-traveled car. The owner of Melrose Tattoo said, “I don’t need my name in the paper for this,” after pulling out a wad of $20 bills, counting them until he reached $1,000. “This is for people who are down and out.”
With damages expected to exceed $2 billion, relief funds have been initiated by long-standing relief organizations and others, including the three Los Angeles radio stations that coordinated the Staples Center “drive-by,” which raised more than $200,000.
With immediate needs from Ventura County to San Diego, donations will be used to buy food, supply firefighters with essentials and to operate shelters, officials with Red Cross and other agencies said.
“Right now we’re entering our most critical phase of disaster relief operations,” said Cecilia Cuevas of the Ventura County office of Emergency Services, which is assisting Simi Valley fire victims. She said mobile emergency aid stations are going into the burn areas to provide clean-up kits, bottled water and information on how to register for aid.
Although most organizers have not released collection tallies, they report hundreds of calls and pledges coming in from California residents and nationwide.
The Red Cross reported that more than $1 million has flowed in from corporations, including $500,000 from Bank of America; $250,000 each from Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual; $100,000 each from AT&T;, Lowe’s, Union Bank of California; $25,000 from Verizon; and $20,000 from Nissan North America.
An additional $200,000 was collected at the San Diego Chargers’ Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins that was moved to Tempe, Ariz., because Qualcomm Stadium is being used as an evacuation center. Game tickets were free, but cheerleaders and Arizona Cardinals players held out buckets asking fans for donations.
Relief agencies are discouraging donors from bringing used clothing, blankets and other household items because they are too difficult to transport and distribute.
But that didn’t stop Kathy Behling, 40, of Anaheim from bringing a few pieces of clothing because she said she doesn’t have any extra cash.
“I know what it’s like to pick through clothes at a shelter,” said Behling, who said she lost everything in an apartment fire in Anaheim about 10 years ago. Her 7-year-old daughter, Arlene Cole, gave up her Teddy bear and Barbie.
Some organizations, including Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the United Way will distribute money themselves.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has asked parishioners in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to give to its Fire Disaster Aid fund.
The Salvation Army is seeking donations through its telephone, mail and Internet operations, said Kamara Holden, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Southern California.
Jake Farber, chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation, said: “It is our obligation, as members of the Southern California community” to aid fire victims.
Those solicited for donations should be aware of scams and ask where the money is going.
“Within days of any natural or man-made disaster, there will be attempts to take advantage of America’s generosity. We’ve seen this time and time again,” said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, a national watchdog organization. “I would caution people to have their guard up when they’re approached for donations.”
In California, groups seeking charitable donations must be registered with the state Attorney General’s Office and file annual financial documents disclosing how much money actually was distributed to the needy. The office also investigates consumer complaints.
“You want to ask, ‘How much of my money is going to the charitable cause, and how much of my money is going toward overhead and administration?’ ” said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
“If more than half of the money is not going to charity, I’d think twice about giving money away.”
Times staff writer Karima Haynes contributed to this report.
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Donations, aid for fire victims
Where to donate
Some organizations with fire relief funds:
* American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund www.acrossla.org/ 1-800-HELP NOW, Monetary donations only
* Los Angeles Times Family Fund/KTLA-5 Charities Fire Relief Campaign. (800) 284-5625, www.latimes.com/firerelief
For every dollar donated up to $1 million, the McCormick Tribune Foundation will donate an additional 50 cents. Donations and matching funds go directly to organizations, such as the Red Cross and other agencies, providing disaster relief to fire victims.
* FOODShare of Ventura County, 4156 N. Southbank St., Oxnard, CA 93030, (805) 983-7100
Needs food donations and seeks volunteers to help prepare food for evacuees.
* Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Fire Disaster Aid, P.O. Box 15095, Los Angeles, CA 90015-0093, (213) 251-3498, www.catholicharitiesla.org
* Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Southern California Fire Emergency Relief Fund, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, (323) 761-8200, www.jewishla.org
* Salvation Army California Wildfires, 900 W. James M. Wood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015, www.salvationarmysocal.org
For in-kind donations, call 800-95TRUCK or www.satruck.com
* Community Foundation, 3880 Lemon St., Suite 300, Riverside, CA 92501, (909) 684-4194
Accepting monetary donations for victims in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
* Fire Relief Fund, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 210 N. Avenue 21, Los Angeles, CA 90031, (323) 226-1762 or (323) 855-0320
Seeking monetary and in-kind donations.
Where victims can go for help
* The Red Cross has about 20 emergency shelters. For a referral to a location, call the 24-hour hotline (866) GETINFO.
* The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is offering food, clothing, emergency counseling and free loan assistance. Call (323) 761-8200.
Los Angeles Times