Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Need Is Vast, but So Is Outpouring ; Private Donations for Hurricane Victims May Reach a Billion Dollars

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Need Is Vast, but So Is Outpouring ; Private Donations for Hurricane Victims May Reach a Billion Dollars

Article excerpt

The Chatmans popped the trunk on their aging Oldsmobile and pulled out garbage bags bursting with baby formula, clothes, shoes, sheets, and food.

The Baton Rouge family didn't know anyone affected by hurricane Katrina. But when they heard a local television station was a designated donation drop-off location, they gathered up all they could and headed into town.

"We have very little, but they have nothing," says Dre Chatman, unloading another bag. "It's people helping people."

The historic storm has left tens of thousands of people in Louisiana and Mississippi without possessions or a place to live.

The entire region - indeed, the nation - has responded in a huge outpouring of support for those affected by Katrina.

The American Red Cross, at press time, has collected $21 million, with nearly $15 million coming from individual donations through its website. Corporate donors have contributed more than 1 million pounds of groceries through food banks. Other corporations are donating everything from trucks to phone cards to bottled water. The US Chamber of Commerce said initial corporate donations to the relief efforts could total more than $100 million. Giving USA in Glenview, Ill., said individual and corporate donations combined could reach $1 billion. Pop stars are already promising to participate in hurricane Katrina telethons.

And every day Americans are showing up at shelters to volunteer and offering their homes to total strangers through Internet postings.

"Everyone has been wanting to help," says Diana Gary, at WAFB Channel 9 in Baton Rouge, where hundreds of people were donating whatever they could spare. "This morning a homeless man brought over a $20 bill he had just been given."

Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, has become the largest gathering place for hurricane evacuees in the region. Estimates are that the city will double in size before the worst is over. In one Red Cross shelter, the River Center, some 5,000 of the displaced pass the days wondering about their homes while making new friends.

"The people have been so nice," says Elaine Dominio, sitting on a blanket at the shelter. "They have given us everything we need: food, shelter, clothes."

Ms. Dominio only recently showed up at the River Center with her son after being evacuated from her rooftop in Chalmette, La. They made it through the hurricane and thought they were safe. "But then the water just came up," she says.

A "family locator" 1-800 number has been set up to facilitate reunions, says Melissa Wenzel, a Red Cross spokeswoman. "But the sheer number of people [wanting to use the service] is slowing that process considerably. …

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