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September 15, 2005
Column #1,255

                    Remarkable Generosity to Katrina Victims

America's response to the victims of Katrina is nothing short of astonishing. Two-thirds of Americans have contributed to Katrina relief. The Red Cross has been the largest recipient of that aid a stunning $653.4 million in gifts, of which $320 million came on line (redcross.org).

With those funds, 8.4 million hot meals have been served "in coordination with the Southern Baptist Convention," which cooked most of the meals in portable kitchens. Another 6.6 million snacks have been given to survivors.

The Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services has served 134,000 people.

In addition, it has allowed 193,600 people to register on line so that separated family members could locate one another. 

Of course, the Red Cross operated 327 shelters that were a second home to hundreds of thousands. However, by September 13, only 61,600 survivors were still in the shelters. The Houston Astrodome dropped from 20,000 to 1,000.

A million people lost their homes to Katrina - the largest evacuation of Americans since the Civil War. Where did they go? Individual Americans who felt blessed by the Lord to have an intact home while others lost everything, generously opened their homes to victims, and not just to relatives. My son Tim took 10 evacuees into his Mississippi home, and within 10 days found an apartment for them. Members of our family chipped in to pay several months rent. 

A fourth of the American people, a tremendous percentage, have participated in such a direct way to help victims establish new lives and a new future. I predict that more than half of the former population of New Orleans will not return, because they have been so generously welcomed by strangers across this land.

A surprising source of generous support has come from American corporations. The New York Times reported that Wal-Mart has led the way in donating $17 million in cash to relief agencies and has shipped 100 truckloads of goods, such as diapers, toothbrushes and even beds to the Gulf Coast. Their value? Another $3 million. Wal-Mart also made available 18 vacant buildings to various relief agencies.

General Electric heard that the pumping station that feeds oil to 40 percent of the nation's refineries had no power. GE sent a mobile power plant, a generator that was sitting idle in Pensacola to Louisiana. It has also given millions in donations.

Emigrant Savings Bank deposited $1,000 into the account of each of its customers in the areas which were hardest hit. What bank has ever deposited $1,000 into its customer's savings accounts? Sounds like the  "Bank Error in Your Favor" card of Monopoly.

Howard R. Milstein, President of Emigrant Savings, felt that an outsized gesture was called for though many advisors disagreed. He thought there were only a few hundred accounts of customers in the area but discovered it was more like 1,000.  He stuck to his decision.

Papa John took a pizza trailer to Biloxi, and handed out thousands of six inch pies.

Georgia Pacific has shipped 65 truckloads of consumer goods - toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates and cutlery - to relief organizations. 

In fact, the Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that $312 million of donations have come from U.S. corporations - surpassing what business gave to relief victims of three hurricanes last year.

The world has also responded generously to the Katrina disaster, with aid pouring in from more than 100 nations. Out of an odd pride, the Bush Administration initially resisted taking these offers but relented when the scope of the disaster became clear.

The most striking of these commitments from foreign countries came from Kuwait. In a full-page ad, the government of Kuwait pledged $500 million close to the amount donated to all charities by individual Americans - "to assist our American friends in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast."

"We, as Kuwaities, understand what it is like to face a national emergency, and to have friends volunteer to provide assistance" the ad said. "American values have helped many a people rebuild their nation. We will never forget the support and courage of the American people helped us reclaim our homeland in 1991.

"When we see the images of Hurricane Katrina, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones and to those adapting to new ways of life. We in Kuwait understand, as we too had to start anew."
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