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Americans race to give to charities

After a week of watching and learning about the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina, Americans donated over half a billion dollars to charities aiding victims of the flood.
Kristie Jacobs of New Orleans, La., right, holds her two-month-old cousin Makiah Henry as they wait to complete paperwork for housing vouchers in Jackson, Miss..Rogelio Solis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Within a week after news and images of the chaos left by Hurricane Katrina were broadcast, Americans donated over half a billion dollars to charities aiding victims of the flood.

The speed of the money raised has outpaced the rate of donations offered to victims of the 2001 terror attacks and could hit $1 billion, according Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a publication that tracks nonprofit organizations.

"It is unprecedented in scale and speed," Palmer said.

"This outpaces anything we have had," said Ryland Dodge, spokesman with the American Red Cross. "The 9-11 donations ended up being $1 billion dollars (collected) over a long period of time."

By far the largest single corporate donation has come from Wal-Mart, the retail giant, which donated $17 million late last week. In addition, the Walton Family Foundation, a foundation created by the family of the founder of Wal-Mart, donated $15 million to a variety of organizations.

Also, the retail giant has donated over $3 million in merchandise donations like clothing, water, diapers and toothbrushes that were shipped to shelters.

Much of the money has been donated to the American Red Cross. which had received $409 million as of midday Tuesday. The Salvation Army had raised $50 million by Tuesday afternoon allowing it to serve as many as 500,000 meals a day at its canteens.

Each meal costs $3, according to Melissa Temme, a spokeswoman for The Salvation Army.

The pace of giving has been so hectic at the Salvation Army that online donations have, in the four days after the hurricane, surpassed what has been raised over the Internet in five years.

Other corporations offering donations included General Electric Co. which gave $6 million to the Red Cross and The Coca-Cola Co. which gave $5 million to the Red Cross as well as other charities, Palmer said.

Much of the pace of giving stepped up on Thursday and Friday as images of the devastation and the plight of people in the stricken areas became evident.

"People are very frustrated when they see the slowness of the response (to the hurricane). People figure they can give a gift very quickly," said Palmer, adding that some corporations have increased the size of their donations in response to the images of devastation. "The slowness of the response is part of what triggered this outpouring of donations."

Federal and state officials have faced heightened criticism over the speed of the response to the disaster last week. At the same time, the pool of religious groups announcing plans to help has grown.

Muslim groups like Kind Hearts, Islamic Relief and the Muslim American Society announced the formation of the Muslim Hurricane Relief Task Force which will coordinate $10 million pledged by the groups for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

That aid would be distributed regardless of religious faith, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman at the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group.