Nati Harnik  /  AP
Tulane University medical student Nicole Gilg collects donations in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday for the Hurricane Katrina relief fund. An Omaha native, Gilg evacuated New Orleans before the hurricane struck.
NBC News and news services
updated 9/1/2005 8:15:01 PM ET 2005-09-02T00:15:01

Substitute teacher Liliette Pena watched TV images of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina until she could watch no more. She turned to her checkbook.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” Pena said, stifling sobs as she waited to donate $100 at a Red Cross center at Dodger Stadium. “I’d like to think that if anything like that happened to Los Angeles, people back East would do the same thing.”

Thousands of Americans reached out to victims of Katrina on Wednesday as pictures of the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast overwhelmed living rooms and offices across the country. From churches to ballparks and radio stations to train stations, efforts to help were under way.

Many givers, like Pena, reached for their wallets. Others packed their bags and prepared to join the stream of civilian doctors, nurses, paramedics, morticians and veterinarians headed south.

Still more opened their restaurants, churches and even bowling alleys for impromptu fund-raisers for stricken friends and relatives — some still missing days after Katrina passed by.

The Red Cross had collected $21 million, nearly $15 million of that from individual donations through its Web site, Red Cross spokeswoman Kara Bunte said. Some insisted on making their donations in person.

“I just felt the situation down in New Orleans is something that can happen anywhere in the world and I wanted to be a part of the whole thing,” said Los Angeles electrician Barry Durham. “I wanted to be more personal about it.”

Help from all over
The help came from individuals, Fortune 500 companies, sports stars and entertainers.

Following an announcement by President Bush on Thursday that he was appointing two former presidents, his father, George. H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, to spearhead a fund-raising effort for victims of Katrina, Walmart stepped forward with $15 million "to jump-start the effort."

Other corporations came forward with millions in cash and goods donations including Walt Disney, UPS, Shell Oil, Chevron Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup, Pfizer Inc. and State Farm.

More than 100 tractor-trailers from as far away as California and Wisconsin were on their way to aid Katrina’s victims in southwest Alabama with food, water, ice and blankets.

“It’s a good feeling to help. They don’t have food, no water, blankets or anything,” said driver Tim Cupp, who is ready to deliver a truck full of Meals-Ready-to-Eat. “It’s hard to put yourself in their shoes.”

Governors across the nation pledged to send troops, doctors and engineers. They also opened their schools for any displaced students who couldn’t afford to lose a semester on their way to a college degree.

Recalling the national support given South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Gov. Mark Sanford said, “We’re ready to return the favor.” The state’s National Guard was pulling together a military police company, a water purification company and a transport unit to be sent to the coast.

'Something money can't buy'
Smaller efforts have also begun. At Ragin’ Cajun, a popular Creole restaurant in Hermosa Beach, Calif., the Domingue family — natives of Lafayette, La. — collected more than $550 to help a friend’s business that was wiped out by floodwaters.

In Pensacola, Fla., Richard and Sarah Trimble left their own storm-damaged home to drive to Mississippi to help feed victims of Katrina. They were with more than 100 members of two faith-based organizations who set out in a 31-truck convoy that included mobile kitchens and showers.

“We get more out of it than the people we serve,” said 68-year-old Chester Gunn of Brandon, Fla. “To see the people standing in front of you with tears running down their eyes and saying ‘Thank you’ — that’s something that money can’t buy.”

Telethons reminiscent of benefits for tsunami and Sept. 11 victims were announced Wednesday featuring artists such as Wynton Marsalis, John Mellencamp, the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day. Jerry Lewis’ annual Labor Day fund-raiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association will also appeal for donations to hurricane victims. The MDA said it would contribute $1 million.

Leona Helmsley will donate $5 million to the hurricane relief efforts through the American Red Cross Greater New York chapter, NBC reported.

The world of sports jumped in, as well, with the National Football League and New York Yankees each donating $1 million to the American Red Cross. Tennis player Serena Williams offered to donate $100 for every ace she hits the rest of the year.

In Detroit, the owners of Community Bowling Centers planned to donate 50 percent of their revenue from three counties during a Labor Day bowl-a-thon. And Florida State University asked fans to donate during a football game Monday against rival Miami.

In Green Bay, Wis., star NFL quarterback Brett Favre spoke emotionally about the devastation in his boyhood home of Kiln, Miss. He said the Packers flew relief supplies to Tennessee on the team plane for distribution in Hattiesburg, Miss., and further south.

“It’s devastating,” said Favre, who added that 50 friends and relatives were camped out at his Hattiesburg home. “The Gulf Coast is gone.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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