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Donations at $500 Million, and Climbing

Times Staff Writers

Americans are opening their pocketbooks so fast and so wide in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that donations have already dwarfed the first week’s efforts to help victims of last year’s Asian tsunami and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

By Tuesday evening, U.S. charities had raised more than $500 million in cash and pledges -- more than twice the $239 million donated in the 10 days after Sept. 11, and more than three times the $163 million raised in the nine days after the tsunami that hit countries along the Indian Ocean last Dec. 26.

The American Red Cross had raised $409 million by Tuesday afternoon -- five times the $79 million that came in during the first week after the tsunami, the agency said.

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The Salvation Army had raised $51 million -- six times the amount the charity took in for tsunami relief and more than it collected over the last five years combined.

The outpouring of gifts eased the concerns of some charity groups that donations might not be so robust because so many Americans had given money earlier this year for tsunami relief. But the agencies remain worried that strains on the economy, including rising gas prices, will hamper the relief effort in the long run. The damage to people and places is so huge, relief workers said, that it will take this week’s donations and millions of dollars more to ease the suffering along the Gulf Coast.

They said that despite a record-breaking first week, total donations for Katrina were still a fraction of the amounts raised over months and years for 9/11 and tsunami relief. Donations for 9/11 relief are now at $2.2 billion, and U.S. charities have collected nearly $1.3 billion for the tsunami so far, according to a tabulation compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“The concern is that the donations will not keep up with the effort,” said Maj. Timothy Lyle, a Salvation Army spokesman.

Some donations collected since the Category 4 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 were huge: Chesapeake Energy Corp., an Oklahoma City-based natural-gas producer, said Tuesday that it donated $3 million to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations. Author John Grisham and his family donated $5 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

But much of the money represented the efforts of millions of Americans of moderate means: A 7-year-old Chicago girl sold her toys over the weekend and walked into the offices of the food bank company America’s Second Harvest with $11. Neighbors in Long Beach paid up to $20 for a glass of instant lemonade, allowing a group of local children to donate $650 to the Red Cross.

Holly Hagin, a 10-year-old girl who lives in Long Beach, was worried about a New Orleans pen pal she’d had in the second grade. So Holly, three of her siblings and some neighbors set up a lemonade stand. The children and Holly’s mother presented $550 in cash and $100 in checks to the local Red Cross office Tuesday, and Gretchen Hagin, a registered nurse, said she hoped to go to the hurricane-ravaged area as a medical volunteer.

At Huntington Harbor Estates, a mobile home park in Huntington Beach, residents raised $216 at a Labor Day luau. They plan to seek out a “sister” mobile home park on the Gulf Coast, and donate the money directly to its displaced residents.

George Kalta, the owner of a lighting wholesale firm in Valencia, plans to hold a fundraiser Friday in the parking lot of his 60,000-square-foot warehouse, selling lamps and donating the proceeds to the Red Cross for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“This is something you should see in a foreign country, not in America,” Kalta said of the devastation. “There’s no way this country should have those people sitting on their roofs.... Some of them did not have the money to put $3-a-gallon gas in their car and leave.”

Besides money, donors are sending trucks filled with food, diapers and other necessities. Because most relief agencies can’t handle such donations -- and actively discourage them -- churches, temples and food banks are sending their goods directly to people housing refugees.

Amanda Janes, who runs a family-owned coffee shop in San Francisco, set plans in motion over the Labor Day weekend to collect donations of clothing, supplies and cash at the Corner Cup on Lawton Street.

“We decided with this crisis, we should reach past our own neighborhood and try to help everybody we can,” she said. “People all over are looking for a way to do a little bit more than giving money, because writing a check doesn’t feel human enough. We’re collecting diapers, baby formula.”

Over the Labor Day weekend, members of Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge came together to collect nearly 15,000 items of new and used clothing, baby items and $750 in cash.

The money and goods will go directly to Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge, La., where congregants are providing shelter and services for people displaced by Katrina, said Alex Romano, chairman of the social action committee at the Northridge synagogue.

“It was about 10 times as much as the rabbi and I really expected in terms of quantity,” Romano said. “And three or four times the people came out and participated than we expected.”

Synagogue members in the shipping business arranged for transportation services.

“With all the coverage on TV, it’s very easy for people to visualize who needs these items,” said Romano, adding that his neighbors know firsthand about the importance of disaster aid because they were at the epicenter of the massive 1994 earthquake. “Being from Northridge, we understand what it means to be in need after a disaster.”

Susan and Gene Knight of Arcadia used the Internet service Craig’s List to announce that they were willing to house a displaced family at their home. Today, armed with donations from listeners of radio station KIIS-FM, they expect to welcome six children and an adult.

The money is coming in so fast that charities have yet to figure out what to do with it, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which monitors charitable giving in the United States.

If the frantic giving continues, some charities not related to disaster relief fear that there will be less money for their organizations.

After the tsunami, arts organizations and many healthcare agencies reported that donations had slowed.

But it is too early to determine whether those groups have seen a drop in donations following Katrina.

For now, relief groups said, the Gulf Coast needs all the help it can get.

An example of the disaster’s scope can be seen in the amount of food required for hurricane victims, said the Salvation Army’s Lyle.

His organization, which specializes in feeding large amounts of people after disaster strikes, typically counts the number of meals served by the thousands -- in some cases by the hundreds, he said. But by the end of this week, Lyle said, the agency will have served more than 1 million meals -- 100 times the number served to displaced New Yorkers in the same period after 9/11.

“The support from the public is what’s going to keep us going,” said Lesly Simmons, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. “This is not something we can handle by ourselves.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A record pace

Americans donated more to relief efforts during the first days after Hurricane Katrina than in the early period after last year’s Asian tsunami and the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

* American Red Cross: $409 million

* Salvation Army: $51 million

* America’s Second Harvest: $8.4 million

* Total nationwide: $500 million

Sources: Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle of Philanthropy

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How to help

The following agencies are among those providing assistance to hurricane victims:

* Adventist Community Services, (800) 381-7171

* American Red Cross, (800) HELP NOW [435-7669] English; (800) 257-7575 Spanish

* America’s Second Harvest, (800) 771-2303

* Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, www.bushclintonkatrinafund.org

* Catholic Charities USA Hurricane Relief, (800) 919-9338

* Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, (800) 848-5818

* Church World Service, (800) 297-1516

* Convoy of Hope, (417) 823-8998

* Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (800) 638-3522

* Humane Society of the United States, (888) 259-5431; (800) HUMANE1 [486-2631]

* International Medical Corps, (800) 481-4462 or https://www.imcworldwide.org

* Jewish Federation, (323) 761-8200

* Mennonite Disaster Service, (717) 859-2210

* Operation USA, (800) 678-7255

* Salvation Army, (800) SAL-ARMY [725-2769]

* United Methodist Committee on Relief, (800) 554-8583

* United Way Hurricane Katrina Response Fund, (800) 272-4630 or https://national.unitedway.org

* World Relief, (800) 535-5433

Source: Associated Press


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