Sandy Cripples The East Coast

11.03.12

Red Cross, Salvation Army See Spikes in Giving as Storm Devastation Sinks In

Aid organizations are finding multiple ways to draw in donations in the wake of the massive storm--even as some struggle to dig out of the destruction themselves. Jesse Wegman reports.

Unplugged residents in the still-powerless parts of lower Manhattan may not know it yet, but charities around the country are reeling in donations to help them, along with the millions of others up and down the East Coast who are suffering the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy.

On Friday, the Red Cross announced it has received $35 million so far in donations intended for Sandy's victim's through a variety of channels, including online contributions, text messages ($10 per text), and a prominent button on the iTunes Store homepage.

More donations were expected to roll in following a hastily arranged benefit concert for Sandy's victims, featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting, and Christina Aguilera, and broadcast Friday evening on NBC.

The new numbers were a big jump for the aid organization, which on Wednesday said it had already raised $11 million.

"I think the word is certainly getting out," said Karen Stecher, a spokesperson for the Red Cross. "As people see the images on television, on our website, on social media, they're being motivated to step up and help."

(Click here for more information on how to help Hurricane Sandy victims.)

The need for immediate financial resources is still urgent: Nearly 6,800 people spent Thursday night in 97 Red Cross shelters across nine states, and the organization has served more than 215,000 meals so far, according to Stecher. Aid workers are distributing 60 trailers of relief supplies, including personal-hygiene items, clean-up kits, rakes, shovels, tarps, dust masks, and work gloves.

Other relief agencies have also seen spikes in donations since Monday's storm. As of Friday afternoon, the Salvation Army had received slightly less than $2 million in Sandy-related donations, including $1.77 million online, $45,820 through text donations (like the Red Cross, $10 per text), and $122,000 through its 800 number.

In New Jersey, the Salvation Army has provided more than 32,000 meals, 27,000 snacks, and 27,000 bottles of water.

Some organizations are finding that the donation rate has picked up particularly in the past 24 hours. "It's accelerating as people are grasping the extent of the damage and the emotional turmoil in many communities," said Leslie Gianelli, spokesperson for AmeriCares, which is based in Stamford, Conn. "Now that the stories of people are being communicated, it's almost becoming a Katrina-type reaction in the last 24 hours."

AmeriCares had taken in $850,000 by Friday afternoon, Gianelli said. "People are getting past the shock and people are taking a closer look at what's happening here."

Meanwhile, some agencies in New York were trying to raise funds while at the same time digging themselves out of the damage wrought by Sandy.

The United Way of New York City, which on Thursday announced a regional fund to assist the hardest-hit communities, was still operating without power on Friday afternoon. Its Midtown Manhattan offices sit less than two blocks from the blackout line.

"We set up camp at one of our board member's offices, but it's been quite a challenge," said UWNYC President and CEO Sheena Wright.

Wright said UWNYC, which raised more than half a billion dollars for the September 11th Fund in the years after the terrorist attacks, was focused on providing assistance over the long term, particularly for the low-income families that the United Way assists on a regular basis.

"If you haven't been to work in a week, you're most likely not getting paid, because you have a low-wage job," Wright said. "If your kids are not in school since Monday and you depend on that free breakfast or free lunch, you're in a lot of trouble right now."

Wright said donors—including corporate partners such as Starbucks, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America—had committed close to $1 million to the new fund as of Friday afternoon.

World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, had raised $290,000 as of Thursday, but had to contend with a flooded warehouse in the Bronx, which destroyed one third of all its relief supplies. World Vision provides kits of food, hygiene products, and flood-cleanup products, as well as blankets and tarps to those in regions, such as the Appalachias, where Sandy combined with other storms to dump several feet of snow earlier in the week.

There was also concern that in the wake of Sandy's destruction in the United States, the damage wrought by the storm outside the U.S. could be overlooked.

Before it clobbered the Eastern seaboard, Sandy swept through Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba, killing scores and leaving thousands more homeless and at risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera. In Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic earthquake that struck in January 2010, 52 people were confirmed killed by the storm while flooding left 18,000 people homeless.

'Now that the stories of people are being communicated, it's almost becoming a Katrina-type reaction in the last 24 hours.'

International Medical Corps, which is based in Santa Monica, Calif., and raises money for disaster relief around the world, has seen only a "fraction" of the donations that the U.S.-focused groups receive, according to Margaret Aguirre, a spokesperson for IMC.

"People understand disasters that hit their lives directly, and there's nothing wrong with that," Aguirre said. "That's the way the world works; we feel for those in our own communities."

Still, Aguirre hoped that the outpouring of sympathy in the wake of the storm would ultimately translate into a greater awareness of the plight of all the storm's victims. "I look at what's happening in New York and I think, that doesn't look much unlike flooding I've seen in other countries, in south Sudan, in Haiti. But it's about what resources do you have to address the issues."

"Haiti doesn't have the infrastructure that the U.S. has, so when roads are shut down or when roads are flooded, there are more resources in the U.S. to deal with those issues. It's not like someone can go check into a hotel, or easily have someone bring them food from somewhere else," Aguirre said.