Stunned by gripping images of the many thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina who have been left homeless, hungry and emotionally exhausted, Americans are reaching into their wallets and donating millions of dollars to relief efforts.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported yesterday that total aid for Katrina victims had reached $219 million, including $197 million in gifts and pledges made to the American Red Cross. Americans donated $239 million in the 10 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and $30 million in the three days after the tsunami in Asia in December, the publication noted.
The heads of some charitable organizations had worried that donations for Katrina's victims might be less than robust because the hurricane hit so soon after last year's tsunami disaster. They said they were relieved that their predictions had not come to pass and that people were eager to help.
"We took in $550 million after the tsunami, and that was over a period of many weeks," said Ryland Dodge, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Washington. "This has been, what? Four days so far. This is a very good thing."
While donations to the Red Cross have yet to reach the totals raised after the tsunami, or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Americans donated $1 billion, the volume of calls - about 10,000 a day this week - has vastly outpaced the response after past disasters, Dodge said.
Internet portal Yahoo.com, which is handling overflow donation traffic from the Red Cross' site, said it had accepted $32 million in donations, topping the $30 million it took in after Sept. 11, a figure that took two weeks to reach.
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities USA and United Jewish Communities reported that they had collected $2 million and $1 million, respectively.
"People are giving from their heart, and they are gracious in their support," said Barry R. Swartz, senior vice president of the United Jewish Communities, a national organization that represents hundreds of communities across the nation.
In Maryland, local charities, businesses, groups and individuals have rallied to provide donations and to volunteer aid, including the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Inc., which announced a $1 million donation to Katrina survivors; Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, which has established a $1 million employee assistance fund to benefit its workers affected by the storm; and Diplomat Freight Services Inc. of Annapolis, which has chartered two planes to deliver 160,000 pounds of food and bottled water.
There are other examples of generosity. Washington College in Chestertown is offering free enrollment to eight students affected by Katrina; a Safeway employee in Bowie has bought $6,000 worth of bottled water to be shipped to New Orleans, a gift his employer will match; and fire stations in Baltimore are collecting bottled water and nonperishable food items for delivery to gulf states.
Shale D. Stiller, president of the Weinberg foundation, which split a $1 million contribution evenly between United Jewish Communities and Catholic Charities USA, said that he hopes many more groups and individuals will pitch in.
"This is the worst natural disaster that has ever occurred in the U.S.," he said. "It's important for the foundation and all foundations and all people to contribute in a large way."
Employees at the tiny Diplomat Freight Services also felt an urge to help, said company owner John Rodenhouse, so they donated a chartered plane to deliver supplies and put the word out that they needed food and water donations. When the first plane filled up with donated goods, including 2,000 gallons of bottled water donated by Baltimore, Diplomat employees added a second. The flights are scheduled to leave for the Gulf Coast tomorrow and Monday.
"We really feel good about the relief materials getting to the people who need them most," said Rodenhouse, who bought pizza and caffeinated sodas to keep his 24 employees awake and energetic.
Although the response to the aftermath of Katrina has been impressive, there are many obstacles to overcome. Chaos and violence, as well as flooded and heavily damaged roads, have prevented relief organizations from gaining access to victims in New Orleans. The scope of the devastation is also making it difficult to determine precisely where help is most needed. There is also concern that relief efforts could last for months, and that they could strain volunteer and financial resources.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Where to make donations
Most charities are requesting financial donations rather than goods or clothing. This enables them to use the money within the communities that are most affected. Among them are:
American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) 1-800-435-7669 or 1-800-HELP-NOW
America's Second Harvest (www.secondharvest.org) for hunger relief. 1-800-344-8070
Catholic Charities (www.catholiccharitiesusa.org) 1-800-919-9338
Church World Services (www.churchworldservice.org) 1-800-297-1516
McCormick Tribune Foundation (www.mccormicktribune.org) 1-800-508-2848
The Sun is a partner in this relief campaign. The foundation will match the first $1 million donated at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar.
Network for Good (www.networkforgood.org) provides easy donations to a number of charities, including the Humane Society of America (for pets) and chapters of the United Way in Florida and Louisiana
Salvation Army: (www.salvationarmyusa.org)