Fueled by Internet donations from hundreds of thousands of individuals, the outpouring to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami is on track to surpass gifts for victims of previous natural disasters, and charities say contributions are even outpacing those of the first days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Americans are donating so much money -- so fast -- that relief agencies say the totals are rising dramatically hour to hour.
By Friday, the International Red Cross reported $47.3 million in donations in the first four days after Sunday’s tragedy. World Vision, based in the Seattle area, said it had collected $8 million, and UNICEF received $20 million.
With donations as small as $10 and as large as the $35 million pledge of cash and medicine from pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc., people across the United States are finding a variety of ways to give.
An 11-year-old boy stood in the rain in a Seattle suburb selling hot chocolate. A Trinidadian cabdriver in New York handed $150 in cash to the director of a Jewish relief agency. Employees of a Burbank production company started out collecting blankets, and now expect to donate as much as $20,000 in cash and checks.
A haircut marathon is scheduled for Monday at an Alhambra beauty school. A company that owns thoroughbred racehorses in Kentucky, Australia and Ireland is trying to raise $1 million by auctioning stud services for some of the world’s fastest horses.
Each day into the tragedy, giving has increased.
UNICEF’s online fundraising netted $300,000 on Monday, the day after the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami struck; $1.6 million on Tuesday; $3.5 million on Wednesday; and $5.3 million on Thursday.
“It’s broken all records,” UNICEF spokeswoman Lisa Szarkowski said Friday. “We raised $4 million for the earthquake in Gujarat, India, in 2001, and we thought that was an outpouring. But we raised more than that online yesterday alone.”
So much money has come in that charities have not had a chance to analyze who the donors are.
Tim Ledwith, who directs online fundraising for UNICEF, said the agency has not yet developed a fundraising goal -- or even begun to estimate how much could ultimately come in.
“I am a bit surprised to see [contributions] increasing and not leveling off,” he said. “The level of generosity is just overwhelming.”
The Internet has taken on a particularly important role in charitable donations, even more so than after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a publication that monitors charitable giving. “When Sept. 11 happened, the Red Cross’ site crashed and was down for two days” because of an onslaught of donors, Palmer said.
This time, she and others said, nonprofits were ready. And computer users, more comfortable making financial transactions online than they were three years ago, have responded intensely.
The shopping site Amazon.com has a link on its home page for donations to the Red Cross. By 6 p.m. Friday, the site reported that 130,000 people had donated $10 million. The Red Cross has not yet included that amount in its total.
Three-fourths of the $8 million raised by World Vision came in over the Internet, said spokeswoman Sheryl Watkins.
Tommy Loeb, deputy executive director for the American Jewish World Service, said donors are more likely to give via the Internet because they can do so on impulse. Rather than having to look for a checkbook, an envelope and a stamp -- as well as the address of a charity -- many people simply go online.
The day after the tsunami, Rajeev Gajendran of Saratoga, Calif., went to the Red Cross website and entered his credit card information, donating $100 in seconds. The next day, Gajendran, who grew up in Sri Lanka, one of the countries most affected by the tragedy, went back online and donated another $100 through his employer’s website.
“Living here, we really don’t have much in the way of roots and connections [to Sri Lanka] anymore,” the computer design manager said of himself and his family. “But we had to do something.”
The immediacy of online donations has made a huge difference for relief agencies, which in the past often had to wait weeks for checks to arrive.
“I can see down to the minute how much money is being raised,” said John Hartman, vice president of Kintera Inc., which provides fundraising software to World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and other nonprofits.
“UNICEF is able to have a meeting tonight and know exactly how much money was raised today. It allows them to budget much more effectively.”
It is difficult to say whether the outpouring of support for tsunami victims will reduce donations to other charities as the new year progresses.
Many arts organizations and some AIDS charities said that donations dropped after Sept. 11 because donors were more focused on assisting the families of terrorist victims.
“Usually there are some winners and losers in this kind of thing,” said Palmer, of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“The big question is whether people will consider this an additional gift or whether it’s replacing one of the charitable gifts that they would otherwise have made.”
In particular, Palmer said, charities that help the hungry and homeless -- which are frequently spotlighted in media stories over the holidays -- may suffer from reduced donations as attention focuses on the tsunami victims.
Apart from Internet donations, many people are contributing the old-fashioned way: collecting food, organizing fundraisers and even planning trips to Southern Asia to assist with the recovery effort.
Chanatip “Bobbie” Jacobson of Sherman Oaks has raised about $2,000 from friends, family and associates, which she plans to match with her own money.
Later this month, Jacobson, who is from Thailand, plans to travel to the stricken region to hand out money to people who need items like concrete to rebuild their homes.
“I just want to go to help,” she said. “When you have the opportunity to reach out, you don’t wait. You just do it.”
Thomas Wilson, a sixth-grader from Sammamish, Wash., stood at Inglewood Hill Road and Northeast 210th Street under a sign that read “Hot Chocolate for Tidal Wave Relief.”
By lunchtime Friday, Thomas, along with his brother, two sisters and a couple of neighbors, had raised $400.
“People are coming left and right,” the 11-year-old said. “People are saying, ‘Keep the change,’ and giving us $20 bills.”
Businesses -- large and small -- are also contributing. Together, Starbucks, Exxon Mobile, Citibank and others have pledged products or services worth about $80 million.
The Ireland-based owner of Coolmore, a high-end horse-breeding company in County Tipperary with additional facilities in Australia and Kentucky, will be auctioning the stud services of some of the world’s most famous racehorses and giving the proceeds to the Red Cross.
Already, horse owners in Europe and the United States have placed bids to breed their mares with such horses as 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, said Barry Weisbord, the New Jersey-based publisher of Thoroughbred Daily News, who is helping coordinate the effort.
In Burbank, Craig Murray offered to match any donations by the 120 employees of his production company, figuring they would raise about $5,000 for the Red Cross by the time everyone returned from vacation next week.
But in just two days -- and with most of the staff gone -- workers at Craig Murray Productions donated $3,500. Now Murray figures that by the end of January, the group will have raised closer to $20,000.
“It’s been on everyone’s mind,” Murray said of the disaster. “Someone was collecting blankets, and one thing led to another.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Aid for quake and tsunami victims
These aid agencies are among those accepting contributions for assistance that they or their affiliates are providing for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Asia.
Action Against Hunger
247 W. 37th, Suite 1201
New York, NY 10018
Asia Quake Fund
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904
American Jewish World Service
45 West 36th St., 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
American Red Cross
International Response Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013
(800) HELP NOW
Brother’s Brother Foundation
1200 Galveston Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15233
151 Ellis St., N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30303-2440
(800) 521-CARE ext. 999
Catholic Relief Services
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, MD 21203-7090
Christian Children’s Fund
2821 Emerywood Parkway
Richmond, VA 23294
Church World Service
P.O. Box 968
Elkhart, IN 46515
Direct Relief International
27 S. La Patera Lane
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres
P.O. Box 2247
New York, NY 10116-2247
17011 W. Hickory
Spring Lake, MI 49456
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
P.O. Box 372
CH-1211 Geneva 19
International Orthodox Christian Charities
Middle East Crisis Response
P.O. Box 630225
Baltimore, MD 21263-0225
Lutheran World Relief
P.O. Box 17061
Baltimore, MD 21298-9832
2200 Glynco Parkway
P.O. Box 215000
Brunswick, GA 31521-5000
Source: Associated Press
Times staff writers Jennifer Oldham and Caitlin Liu contributed to this report.