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Unparalleled outpouring raises tens of millions for disaster aid

SHARE Unparalleled outpouring raises tens of millions for disaster aid

NEW YORK — Children have poured piggy banks into Red Cross buckets. Corporations have written six-figure checks. And as of Friday, people had donated more than $78 million online to disaster relief efforts, according to www.libertyunites.org, a Web site listing charities funding the terrorist-attack recovery efforts.

Tens of millions of dollars more has also been raised by charities around the nation, including from a celebrity-studded telethon Friday night.

"What we're seeing now may be unparalleled in the history of philanthropy," said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer for the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity watchdog group based in Arlington, Va.

But as Americans look for the best way of pitching in, experts say it has never been more crucial to question where their dollars are going. Reports of fraudulent relief phone solicitations caused the American Red Cross to stop phoning past donors for contributions, a spokeswoman said.

With any charity, Weiner said donors should request three things before making a contribution: an organization budget, a detailed description of the group's planned activities and information about the organization's board of directors.

"If any charity can't provide all three, you should go somewhere else," Weiner said. "These organizations need be good stewards of this money because the public won't stand for abuse and misuse of funds at this critical time." And donors who want their money to go to a specific group — such as families of firefighters — need to find the right charity.

Some organizations, such as the American Red Cross, have already been using the funds for rescue efforts. Other organizations are still trying to determine how much has been raised and how to best spend the money.

All of the $190 million given to the Red Cross between the day of the attacks and 5 p.m. Friday has been used for attack recovery efforts, unless a donor requested otherwise, said spokeswoman Heather Overstreet.

Donors are also permitted to earmark funds for general disaster relief or a particular terrorist attack.

Red Cross workers in New York City, for example, had used some money to serve 900,000 meals and snacks to relief workers, found shelter for 360 displaced people, coordinated and trained 7,000 volunteers and distributed more than 16,000 personal hygiene kits.

Next week, Red Cross officials plan to announce ways they will aid victims beyond the traditional means, Overstreet said.

Two agencies in New York City — the New York Community Trust, one of New York's largest philanthropic organizations, and New York United Way, have established a Sept. 11 fund, which will aid in disaster relief as well as victims' families.

And both New York state and city have established their own funds. The state's World Trade Center Relief Fund will aid in emergency response and victim support efforts. And the city's Twin Towers Fund will provide assistance to families of city law-enforcement and other officials who were killed or injured in the trade center attacks.

In Washington, officials at the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, which provides grants to non-profits in the D.C. area, have been bowled over by $1.88 million in checks or financial commitments.

They plan to provide financial aid to families affected by the Pentagon crash and are considering helping others impacted peripherally, such as employees of Ronald Reagan National Airport, which has been closed.

As of Friday, the Salvation Army had collected $3.2 million for attack relief efforts — which includes $300,000 in cash given to its New York headquarters, spokesman Greg Evans said. Most donors have given money generally for "disaster relief" — which the charity has used for anything from financing prescription drugs for the injured to purchasing little flatbed trucks to cart food and supplies from one rescue station to another. But donors are also permitted to funnel their money as specifically as to a particular family affected by the attacks.

The New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund, which will distribute funds amid seven social service agencies and three foundations representing uniformed and other emergency services, has collected about $13 million, spokesman Toby Usnik said Friday.

In both New York and Washington, several funds also are in place to directly aid families of victims of the terrorist attacks.