- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Even when money’s tight, Americans can be counted on to lend a hand in the midst of a disaster, as witnessed by the U.S. response to the devastation wrought by the Haiti earthquake.

Donations and pledges to U.S. nonprofits since the epic 7.0 quake wrecked the impoverished island Jan. 12 climbed over a half-billion dollars Tuesday, according to the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, which tracks post-disaster giving.

In the course of one day, giving and pledges jumped from $471 million Monday to $517.5 million Tuesday. The number compares favorably to previous disaster-relief efforts, even though Americans currently find themselves mired in an economic recession.

“What we’ve found interesting in the response to the Haitian earthquake is that the amounts raised have been quite significant,” said Una Osili, the center’s research director. “There’s been a strong outpouring of generosity in the face of this disaster. It shows Americans are generous even in tough economic times.”

She said donations and pledges have exceeded those given after the most recent global disaster of this proportion, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, even though the tsunami occurred during a prosperous economy.

Indeed, it’s almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or go online without reading of new relief efforts. One of the biggest fundraisers to date was the Friday “Hope for Haiti” telethon, featuring celebrities such as George Clooney and Wyclef Jean, which has thus far raised $61 million.

For every star-studded event like the telethon, however, there are thousands of smaller campaigns. Virtually every school district in the nation is collecting donations or supplies for the ravaged island. One example is Urban Park Elementary School in Dallas, where students were permitted to wear jeans instead of their uniforms in exchange for a Haiti donation.

In North Carolina, the staff at Core Personal Trainers stood at a busy intersection and offered to do one push-up for every dollar donated by passing motorists, according to WXII-TV in Winston-Salem. The station also reported that the local Liberty Tax Service was contributing $25 to Haiti relief last week for every tax return started and finished in one day.

In Denver, ESPN football analyst Mark Schlereth sat outside a Safeway grocery store Monday for six hours raising money for Haiti. He donated all the proceeds from that day’s sales of his Mark Schlereth’s Stinkin’ Good Green Chili at all Safeway stores in Colorado.

Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin pledged $1,500 to Haiti relief per rebound in an NBA game last week against the Los Angeles Clippers. He grabbed 14 off the boards for a total of $21,000.

Facilitating the relief effort has been the rise of social networks and new technology, such as Twitter. The Red Cross set the tone by asking contributors to donate $10 by texting “90999.” The donation is then applied to the giver’s phone bill. In other instances, individuals and groups have set up Haiti relief fund efforts through their Facebook accounts. Such nontraditional methods of giving have helped draw younger people into the relief arena.

“This is the first major disaster where we’ve used this technology,” Ms. Osili said. “It’s really exciting for nonprofits because it allows them to reach a lot of donors and a lot of different donors.”

Working in Haiti’s favor is its proximity to the U.S. Many Americans have friends, co-workers or relatives who are Haitian, or may have been involved in previous campaigns to assist the country. Haitians and Haitian-Americans also have carved out enclave neighborhoods in several U.S. cities, most prominently New York and Miami.

Both the National Basketball Association and the National Football League have players who are Haitian or of Haitian descent, several of whom have helped the disaster register with fans by speaking out on the disaster. The NBA and its players’ union have pledged $1 million to the recovery, while the NFL and its union have pledged $2.5 million.

There’s concern that the donations may dry up before the rebuilding work is done in Haiti, but so far contributions are continuing at a brisk clip.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of support and interest in this disaster,” Ms. Osili said. “We’ll start to see it taper off after a few months as the news coverage falls off. So far, we haven’t seen it taper off at all.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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