Archive for Monday, October 22, 2001

Donors should be flexible when helping victims of attacks

October 22, 2001


I don't think I will ever forget the stories of firefighters and police officers who became victims themselves trying to save people following the Sept. 11 attacks.

But there also are the untold stories of those aid workers called collateral victims. During a recent visit to the World Trade Center wreckage, Ani Hurwitz, a senior consultant with the New York Community Trust, put the plight of the victims in perspective.

"As awful as the scene and smell is you can't help but notice all these tiny storefronts. You know there were people working in those stores and they no longer have a job,'' said Hurwitz, whose organization teamed up with the United Way of New York to set up the September 11th Fund.

Flexibility important

One of those thrown out of work is Maxim Gee, who was on the housekeeping staff at a hotel located just a few miles from Reagan National Airport and the Pentagon. With the airport closed until this week and fewer tourists making their way to Washington, there was less need for housekeeping staff.

"I look around for jobs but most of the places I'm putting applications in have no work,'' Gee said. "It's very hard. It's very bad.''

For months to come we will see the broader economic impact of the terrorist attacks. As a result, if you plan to give to a disaster relief fund, don't put restrictions on your gift. This will give charitable groups the greatest flexibility to help as many people as they can.

"We have to cast the charity net a little wider,'' said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog group.

While continuing to aid the direct victims of the attacks, many charitable groups are now turning to help those who were indirectly affected as well.

For example, the Salvation Army has begun to provide emergency financial assistance to workers affected by the long shutdown of Reagan National Airport.

Depending upon such factors as family size and financial situation, Salvation Army assistance may include help with rent, mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, car payments or insurance.

Leslye Wooley, director of city social services for the Salvation Army in Washington, said rental or mortgage assistance would go as high as $1,200. Grants of up to $300 will help cover utility bills. Applicants could get up to $45 to pay for miscellaneous expenses, such as diapers or drug prescriptions.

"We are looking at helping people 30, 60 and 90 days out,'' Wooley said. "As long as the money is there, we will try to stretch it out as long as we can.''

The Associated Black Charities, National Black United Fund and the 21st Century Foundation are working to establish a national fund to assist workers who were laid off or have seen their wages reduced as a result of the attacks.

"Everything that has happened has created multiple levels of victims,'' said Donna Jones Stanley, executive director of Associated Black Charities.

Stanley said contributions to the fund would be distributed to community-based organizations that work directly with individuals.

"When you have a tragedy like this, the tendency is to focus on the high-profile people,'' said William Merritt, president and CEO of the National Black United Fund. "But there are going to be some victims that fall through the cracks. Traditional community programs are going to need funds to reach everybody in need.''

In fact, Hurwitz said disbursement guidelines of the September 11th Fund were worded broadly to give the organizations an opportunity to meet the immediate and long-term needs of victims, families and communities affected by the terrorist attacks. It's probable that some of the money being raised could be dispersed for use in communities far from the areas immediately surrounding New York and Northern Virginia.

Tips for giving

More than $757 million has been raised so far for relief efforts, according to the latest figures from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That's an amazing figure. But there still is a great need. As you contemplate giving, consider the following recommendations from the American Institute of Philanthropy:

Be cautious about donating to disaster victims featured in the news. During past disasters, some highly publicized victims have been flooded with gifts while others in need have been neglected.

If you want to designate your contribution, consider targeting families with limited financial resources or people who may not be eligible for state or federal benefits.

Consider giving to groups that protect the safety and civil rights of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans.

Pace your giving. It's not uncommon for donors to become burned out and unwilling to give more even if another major crisis occurs.

Consider making a contribution in honor of the disaster victims to charities that are not directly involved in helping the recovery effort from the attacks. These groups are likely to experience a serious drop in contributions.

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