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Help Pours In for Victims, Firefighters, Agencies

A drive-by campaign at Staples Center that netted $200,000 is one of several efforts. 'They need this more than I do,' one man says.

October 30, 2003|Stephanie Chavez and Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writers

From NFL fans dropping money into buckets, to religious groups launching fund-raising campaigns, to motorists handing bills and checks through their windows, thousands are opening their wallets to aid victims of the state's weeklong wildfire disaster.

A steady stream of cars, motorcycles and trucks flowed into a Staples Center parking lot Wednesday. Drivers stopped just long enough to donate money that Red Cross officials said will soon find its way to fire victims.

Todd Hines of Encino came in an ash-covered sedan, rolled down the window and handed over a $20 bill.

"I know my 20 bucks isn't going to replace a home, but it's all I got in my wallet right now," said Hines, 40. "But start adding to someone else's $20 and someone else's $20 and hopefully it will."

A few minutes later, Andy Camou of Anaheim in a lumbering delivery truck made a detour into the parking lot. Using his steering wheel as a desk, he wrote a $100 check.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 01, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
FOODShare volunteers -- An article in Thursday's Section A about donations to help fire victims incorrectly reported that FOODShare of Ventura County needed volunteers to prepare food for evacuees. Food preparers are not needed, but the organization does need volunteers to collect and sort food for distribution.

"Yeah, things are tight," he said. "We're trying to save for a house while living in an apartment, but I think they need this more than I do."

Then there was the tattooed man in a well-traveled car. The owner of Melrose Tattoo said, "I don't need my name in the paper for this," after pulling out a wad of $20 bills, counting them until he reached $1,000. "This is for people who are down and out."

With damages expected to exceed $2 billion, relief funds have been initiated by long-standing relief organizations and others, including the three Los Angeles radio stations that coordinated the Staples Center "drive-by," which raised more than $200,000.

With immediate needs from Ventura County to San Diego, donations will be used to buy food, supply firefighters with essentials and to operate shelters, officials with Red Cross and other agencies said.

"Right now we're entering our most critical phase of disaster relief operations," said Cecilia Cuevas of the Ventura County office of Emergency Services, which is assisting Simi Valley fire victims. She said mobile emergency aid stations are going into the burn areas to provide clean-up kits, bottled water and information on how to register for aid.

Although most organizers have not released collection tallies, they report hundreds of calls and pledges coming in from California residents and nationwide.

The Red Cross reported that more than $1 million has flowed in from corporations, including $500,000 from Bank of America; $250,000 each from Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual; $100,000 each from AT&T, Lowe's, Union Bank of California; $25,000 from Verizon; and $20,000 from Nissan North America.

An additional $200,000 was collected at the San Diego Chargers' Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins that was moved to Tempe, Ariz., because Qualcomm Stadium is being used as an evacuation center. Game tickets were free, but cheerleaders and Arizona Cardinals players held out buckets asking fans for donations.

Relief agencies are discouraging donors from bringing used clothing, blankets and other household items because they are too difficult to transport and distribute.

But that didn't stop Kathy Behling, 40, of Anaheim from bringing a few pieces of clothing because she said she doesn't have any extra cash.

"I know what it's like to pick through clothes at a shelter," said Behling, who said she lost everything in an apartment fire in Anaheim about 10 years ago. Her 7-year-old daughter, Arlene Cole, gave up her Teddy bear and Barbie.

Some organizations, including Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the United Way will distribute money themselves.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has asked parishioners in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to give to its Fire Disaster Aid fund.

The Salvation Army is seeking donations through its telephone, mail and Internet operations, said Kamara Holden, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Southern California.

Jake Farber, chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation, said: "It is our obligation, as members of the Southern California community" to aid fire victims.

Those solicited for donations should be aware of scams and ask where the money is going.

"Within days of any natural or man-made disaster, there will be attempts to take advantage of America's generosity. We've seen this time and time again," said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, a national watchdog organization. "I would caution people to have their guard up when they're approached for donations."

In California, groups seeking charitable donations must be registered with the state Attorney General's Office and file annual financial documents disclosing how much money actually was distributed to the needy. The office also investigates consumer complaints.

"You want to ask, 'How much of my money is going to the charitable cause, and how much of my money is going toward overhead and administration?' " said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for the attorney general's office.

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