Americans Open Wallets for Tsunami Relief
50 minutes ago
By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer
NEW YORK - From antibiotics to clothes to cash — lots of it — U.S.-based relief groups report an overwhelming response from donors moved by the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami, with more than $200 million raised as of Tuesday. One charity said online pledges were coming in at the rate of $100,000 an hour.
Donors contributing to what one official called a "tidal wave of generosity" ranged from actress Sandra Bullock, who gave $1 million, to 3-year-old Antonio Cabrera, who joined his brothers in dropping off cash-filled sandwich bags at the American Red Cross (news - web sites) office in Denver.
Firm statistics for such relief campaigns are elusive. But charity officials said they expected donations to continue streaming in for weeks to come, putting the tsunami in the company of the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s and Central America's Hurricane Mitch of 1998 as the foreign disasters prompting the largest contributions from U.S. citizens.
The private donations are in addition to the $350 million pledged thus far by the U.S. government. Two ex-presidents renowned for their fund-raising prowess — Bill Clinton (news - web sites) and George H.W. Bush — have been recruited to spur more private giving.
The No. 1 recipient, by far, has been the American Red Cross; its pledged tsunami donations as of Tuesday totaled $92 million.
"Something about this disaster has really touched a chord," said Suzanne McCormick, who heads the Red Cross chapter in southern Maine. "In terms of international relief, we have never seen anything on this scale."
Other major recipients included the U.S. Fund for UNICEF (news - web sites) and Doctors Without Borders (news - web sites) USA, with donations of about $20 million apiece; and World Vision, Oxfam America, Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children, each reporting gifts of roughly $15 million from U.S. sources.
Dozens of other agencies also were collecting funds for tsunami relief. A New Jersey council of mosques raised $250,000, the Akron, Pa.-based Mennonite Central Committee $2.5 million.
World Vision set a $50-million goal to help victims of the tsunami, the largest single commitment in its 54-year history.
"This disaster came on in an instant, but it will take years to help survivors rebuild their lives," said World Vision president Richard Stearns. "This tidal wave of generosity will help them rebuild."
Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services has committed $25 million for relief efforts; spokeswoman Caroline Brennan said her colleagues were confident of raising that sum without dipping into reserves.
"We usually receive $40,000 a month through our Web site, and now we've been receiving $100,000 an hour," she said. "It's overwhelming. We're enormously grateful."
Doctors Without Borders USA, a branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres, has advised its supporters that it has raised enough to meet immediate needs related to the tsunami and urged donors to give to its other programs.
"We can't accept any more restricted donations at this time," said spokeswoman Kris Torgerson. "But we very much appreciate unrestricted donations to meet needs in Southeast Asia and elsewhere that are not in the immediate spotlight."
Numerous U.S. corporations have made large donations — including $10 million last week from Coca-Cola and $5 million Tuesday from Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co. The Connecticut-based relief group AmeriCares received $500,000 from The New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites) Foundation.
Major drug companies such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb have been giving not only cash but also antibiotics, bandages, pain relievers, syringes and other supplies.
Celebrities also are pitching in. Bullock gave $1 million to the Red Cross, while Leonardo DiCaprio, who filmed "The Beach" on a Thai island in the tsunami zone, set up a link on his Web site for relief donations. Singer Willie Nelson agreed to headline a benefit concert Sunday in Austin, Texas.
In Ohio, the majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Carl Linder, and his son, Carl Linder III, provided $200,000 for a flight carrying 60,000 pounds of antibiotics, food and water for tsunami victims in India and Sri Lanka.
In Fargo, N.D., which was hit by the Red River flood in 1997, city officials agreed to give $10,000 of taxpayer money to tsunami relief.
"As I think back to the flood. ... and the amount of assistance we received from so many people and communities, I feel compelled to reciprocate," Mayor Bruce Furness wrote in a letter to city commissioners.
In Chattanooga, Tenn., some errant motorists were given extra incentive to donate — Municipal Court Judge Russell Bean is letting them give $100 to tsunami relief rather than pay a traffic fine.
"I don't want to force this on them," Bean said. "But I thought this would be a good way for people to make a difference."