BELLEVUE, Wash. — In the early hours of the Japan crisis, Satomi Dohi turned to her mobile phone for two reasons: To check in with family in Fukushima and text message a donation.
"I called to make sure my family was safe," said Dohi, 38, of Redmond, Wash. "Our phones have been our lifeline in Japan."
Dohi said her parents, sister and cousins survived Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. She said since then, she has tried to remain calm and optimistic about their well being in the face of a growing threat of a radiation catastrophe at the quake-stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.Story: Donations to Japan start at slow pace
"They live close, but not too close," she said as she picked out vegetables inside Uwajimaya, an Asian specialty supermarket, in Bellevue, Wash. "They are keeping inside, keeping safe."
Dohi said technology has provided a bright spot in the series of Japan's struggles and mess.
"As soon as I learned they were safe, I donated," Dohi said. "It's the only way I can give right now."
Like Dohi, more people are using phone technology for philanthropy.
Four days after Japan's triple disasters, American donors had contributed more than $47 million for relief efforts, according to The Chronicle of Philantropy. While that falls short of the $150 million generated after Haiti's quake and $108 million after Katrina (also in the first four days), agency officials say the mobile donations are a boon.
Texting contributions took off last year after the earthquake in Haiti. Red Cross officials said more than 3 million contributors used text messages to donate $32 million to relief efforts following the Port-au-Prince quake.
"With Japan, we've been seeing an outpouring of support through the social media community and an increase in the use of Twitter and Facebook," said Karen Kim, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in eastern Washington.
The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are among dozens of groups accepting $10 donations via text message:
- The Salvation Army received more than $980,000 by Monday. Of that total, more than $68,000 came in via text message.
- The American Red Cross raised about $19 million as of Monday, with text-message contributions accounting for $1.6 million.
- International Medical Corps raised $11,830 via text message.
"You want to do something immediately, and that's where text giving is beneficial," said Rachel E. L. Wolff, a spokeswoman for World Vision, a humanitarian agency that focuses on helping children and families.
"The pace and response of generosity we're seeing is encouraging," Wolff said.
Imelda Dulcich, who owns Imelda Dulcich Public Relations in the Seattle-area, said she texted in her donation after the first tweet soliciting for help.
"Social media is my way of communicating," said Dulcich, adding, "I like the technology and the ease of it. I also trust the Red Cross and I trust the Japanese Red Cross."
'Easiest way for me'
Accepting text donations broadens an organization's reach and makes it easy for occasional donors to offer help, Wolff said.
Still, although quick and easy for donors, text donations have limitations.
The first is the dollar limit — text donations are capped at $10, and most mobile phone providers also cap the number donations per month. That's done mainly to prevent abuse, such as donations by family plan users who may not be paying the bill.
Text donations can also be delayed by a month or more, because organizations typically don't receive the cash from the phone company until after donors pay their bills.
Laura Francis, 25, of Bellevue, Wash., said she wanted to donate a little more so she visited the American Red Cross website and contributed $25.
"Going online is the easiest way for me," Francis said. "I wanted to do something from where I am."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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