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In Gifts Big and Small, Quake Aid Gives L.A. a Lift

April 24, 1994|K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Susan Dunn, a Long Beach nurse-practitioner, turned a portion of the $10,000 "shopping spree" prize she won at a department store into gift certificates for 50 families who were victims of the Northridge earthquake.

Students at a Pennsylvania middle school raised $440 by selling peanut butter Easter eggs and donated it to a single mother with seven children in Canoga Park whose apartment was destroyed in the Jan. 17 temblor.

From near and far, individuals and corporations have donated more than $43 million in cash and many millions more in goods and services to earthquake victims through major nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles, including the Red Cross, United Way, Salvation Army, World Vision and Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.

"Faced with urgent and critical emergency needs, the American nation responded in an absolutely magnificent fashion," said Russell Prince, executive director of the Salvation Army's Southern California Division.

As of mid-April, the Salvation Army had received $7.4 million, the Red Cross $32 million, United Way $1.2 million, Catholic Charities of Los Angeles $1.5 million and World Vision $455,000 for quake relief. In addition, the Los Angeles Earthquake Relief Fund, established by the mayor's office to handle donations in the immediate aftermath of the quake, received $964,400, according to press secretary Noelia Rodriguez. She said the donations were made to be used by specific city agencies, including the Police Department, Fire Department and Public Library. Ten percent of the money has been earmarked for community-based organizations.

More than 130 Japanese businesses, government organizations and individuals also teamed up to donate $3.1 million in cash, services and products, including 2,750 bowls of beef donburi-- sauteed beef and onions over rice.

Although large donations of money, food, clothing, water and bedding enabled relief workers to handle tens of thousands of people who needed help immediately after the quake, it was the small gifts, such as those from the students in Pennsylvania and Susan Dunn, that added personal touches to the support shown to quake victims.

Dunn's gift was "one of the most unique," said Mike Tomasello, director of development for Catholic Charities of Los Angeles. "That gift was divided into something very special," because 50 families from Los Angeles, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley each received a $50 Broadway department store gift certificate with which to buy whatever they wanted.

When Dunn first got the word that she had won the prize, she didn't believe it. "I didn't look at the letter for three days--I had never won anything in my life," she said.

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Finally, when she saw that it was for real, she chose to share her luck. She gave $500 to her employer, Mullikin Medical Centers, which was also raising money for earthquake relief, she said.

In Marietta, Pa., a town of 2,700, about 100 students--more than half of them boys--spent four days making 600 peanut butter eggs to raise the $440, said Jean Gerdes, a home economics teacher at Donegar Middle School.

Every year around Easter, her students make peanut butter Easter eggs and donate the proceeds to a worthy cause. Last year, the money went to a Donegar student who was ill. This year, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Donegar voted overwhelmingly to send the money to Los Angeles, she said.

She learned recently that the money was going to a single mother with seven children in Canoga Park.

"We feel very good about it," Gerdes said. "What we raised wasn't significant enough to give to the Red Cross, but we thought if (we) could find one family, the money would help."

"The gift from the students is being used to pay for the family's housing," Tomasello said. "It was a very special gift."

Nearly three months after the quake left 57 people dead, caused losses estimated at up to $20 billion, and left thousands of people homeless, donations continue to come in to nonprofit groups.

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Although well-established organizations are receiving the money and in-kind donations, small community-based groups say they have to struggle for funds.

"It's tough to convince donators to give to organizations like ours because we are not well-known like the Salvation Army and United Way," said Oscar Andrade, executive director of El Rescate, which serves 600 families from its offices in the Pico-Union area. "Our food reserves is down to zero," he said.

The Red Cross, which has already spent $19.2 million on earthquake relief, must raise an additional $5 million to reach its target of $37 million. The amount of money the Red Cross has raised thus far for the Northridge quake is $22 million less than the $54 million collected after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in San Francisco.

Most relief organizations are now looking to long-range programs to help quake victims who need housing, jobs and psychological counseling.

"Long after the story of the earthquake is faded from TV news screens and newspaper front pages, long after the freeways have been repaired and buildings have been fixed, there will still be broken lives which need help, support and a perspective which sees beyond tragedy to triumph," said Col. George Church, division commander for the Salvation Army.

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