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Everyday Americans Donate Millions for Tsunami Relief

U.S. citizens are opening their hearts and their wallets to help dozens of private humanitarian organizations participating in the relief efforts following the devastating tsunamis in South Asia and Africa. Americans donated $18 million in just three days to help the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reach an early target of nearly $44 million in contributions. The relatively small Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore, Maryland, managed to raise $500,000 in the first 24 hours of the crisis. And the Americares Foundation in Stamford, Connecticut reports an unprecedented outpouring of support.

“We’ve been inundated with donations,” says Americares spokesperson Randy Weiss. “At this point, we’ve received $1.5 million in monetary donations. And this has been without Americares making a fundraising effort. It’s just people seeing what we’re doing and getting in touch with us.”

Americans have been seing what the group is doing thanks to the Internet. The organization is one of four featured prominently on the American homepage for Yahoo, one of the world’s more popular Internet search engines. Other popular sites, including Google and Netscape, also have links to organizations accepting donations.

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker group that has received thousands of Internet and telephone donations since December 26. Communications Director Francine Cheeks says the great misfortune in South Asia took place, in many ways, at a fortunate time. “We think that because this happened on Sunday,” says Ms. Cheeks, “and a lot of people were very involved in their own Christmas and other holiday celebrations, that on Monday, when it became the biggest story in the news, people began to reflect on how very lucky they are, what they have, and it’s easier for them to give money.”

The sheer scale of the disaster is also a contributing factor. Randy Weiss of Americares says it is not merely the number of people who have died, but the fact that so many people from so many places have been affected. “A lot of times, [when] you have an earthquake,” he says, “it’s concentrated in one area. Here they show you one country, it’s a complete disaster, and then they go to the next, and you’re seeing the same thing. So it really is touching people.”

The millions of dollars being donated by private organizations – added to what governments are providing -- will help cover the immediate costs of dealing with the catastrophe. But it is just a small start. Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurer, has put the cost of rebuilding the region’s tsunami-devastated communities at nearly $14 billion.