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Charities in the United States Came to the Rescue After Two Hurricanes


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VOICE ONE:

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Pat Bodner.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. Charities collect money for purposes such as to help the sick and needy, and to support the arts. Americans gave record-high gifts to charities in two thousand four. But these organizations themselves face unusual need after two major hurricanes struck states along the Gulf of Mexico.

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Charities in America help provide money for everything from disease research to homeless animals. They raise money for everything from opera companies to summer camps for children.

This work is called philanthropy. The word comes from the Greek and Latin. It means love of humankind, especially as shown through an act like giving to charity. The United States has about one million two hundred thousand of these philanthropic organizations, including religious groups.

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A research report called Giving U.S.A. examined charity in the United States in two thousand four. Giving U.S.A. says American donors, or people who gave, provided charities with nearly an estimated two hundred forty-nine thousand million dollars last year. That was an increase of five percent from the year before. Fifty-five percent of all the charities it studied received larger gifts than the year before.

Experts in money-raising praise the ability to make gifts electronically on the Internet computer system. They say it may be partly responsible for the increases.

It would seem that American charitable organizations are doing well. But two powerful hurricanes recently struck the United States. At least one thousand one hundred people lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Property damage from Katrina alone may be one hundred seventy thousand million dollars.

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Americans have given more than one thousand million dollars in aid for Hurricane Katrina. The American Red Cross received about eighty percent of these contributions, or gifts. But still, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charities are feeling pressured. They helped people in a time of need. And now many of these organizations themselves are in need.

The Red Cross and other groups also served after four major hurricanes last year. The organizations are appealing to the public to help them recover financially.

The charities also face other hard questions about money after the recent storms. For example, should religious organizations receive government money for helping survivors? Can money given for aid after one storm be used for another?

And, what is the future for smaller, local charities not involved with hurricane aid? Will they be able to continue serving their communities? Or will people give them less money this year?

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, says it will repay religious organizations for sheltering and feeding survivors after the hurricanes. FEMA says it will do this with taxpayer money.

Critics immediately denounced FEMA’s announcement. For example, the organization called Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., says the Constitution bans such repayment.

Some religious groups also disliked the idea. But other groups say they must take the money to continue operating.

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The American Red Cross supports FEMA’s offer of assistance to religious groups. FEMA also helps the Red Cross. FEMA will give the organization one hundred million dollars as repayment for shelter services. The Red Cross says the money will pay the temporary housing expenses of survivors. Some are expected to stay in hotels until the end of this month.

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Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana, and areas of Mississippi and Alabama on August twenty-ninth. New Orleans suffered severe flooding. The storm damaged barriers meant to keep out the water of Lake Pontchartrain.

Charity workers often arrived to help people much faster than government aid workers. Local religious groups aided Katrina victims when Red Cross and government workers could not enter affected areas. Religious groups reportedly sheltered and fed a half-million people.

The religious charities also are doing this for people who fled Hurricane Rita. Rita struck September twenty-fourth. The storm caused widespread damage in parts of Texas and Louisiana. It hit some areas struck earlier by Hurricane Katrina.

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After Katrina struck, many people gave to charities to help after that hurricane. But soon afterward, aid was also needed for Rita survivors and rebuilding. This left charities questioning how to use donor money. Laws governing charitable gifts can mean that charities must spend money as the donor wishes.

The Red Cross says it will honor donor requests. So does a special campaign led by two former United States presidents. A statement by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton makes clear that money already collected for Hurricane Katrina will go to Katrina aid.

Some groups are asking donors to let them choose how to use the money.

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After Americans have given so much to hurricane aid, some local charities worry that their usual donors will have little money left for them.

For example, the Denver Rescue Mission in Colorado is a human services agency. Experts say such agencies are among the most financially threatened. The organization shelters many thousands of people in a year. It serves three meals every day. It has apartments for families who have lost their homes. Most are single mothers. The Denver Rescue Mission helps the sick and people physically dependent on alcohol and illegal drugs.

Mission official Greta Ritchey says she is happy that people have reacted so well to appeals for hurricane aid. Still, she also worries that the agency will not get enough contributions to support its nineteen-million-dollar budget.

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But an expert in charitable contributions says gifts will return to normal after a while. Hank Goldstein is chairman of the Giving U.S.A. Foundation. Mister Goldstein said some gift reduction is normal after a terrible event.

He noted that the amount received for Katrina aid is less than one percent of the total received by charities in America last year.

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The organization Giving U.S.A. has reported on charity donations for fifty years. Eugene Tempel heads the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, where the Giving U.S.A. report is produced.

Mister Tempel said religious organizations received the largest contributions in two thousand four. People gave these groups more than eighty-eight thousand million dollars. Educational centers received the next largest gifts last year. Donors gave them thirty-four thousand million dollars.

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Giving U.S.A. says gifts from individuals provided the most money to charity in two thousand four. It says about seventy to eighty percent of Americans contribute to at least one charity each year. Some people give to a cooperative charity campaign at their workplaces. For example, the Combined Federal Campaign in the government helps many philanthropic agencies.

C. Ray Clements is head of the American Association of Fundraising Counsel. Mister Clements said people who left directions for gifts before they died provided the second largest contributions. These gifts are known as bequests. Next came charitable organizations called foundations. Businesses held fourth place.

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Some Americans take part in philanthropy by performing service to others. For example, many people not connected with charities or the government took supplies to storm survivors.

Historian Douglas Brinkley and actor Sean Penn helped search for survivors in the flooded streets of New Orleans.

American writer John Grisham and his wife Renee established an organization to help rebuild homes destroyed by the storms. Their foundation is called Rebuild the Coast.

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Children helped, too. Young people in many places in America collected gifts and supplies for students made homeless by the storms.

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Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Steve Ember

VOICE ONE:

And I’m Pat Bodner. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

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