Bridge Disaster Fund tops $564,000

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2007 - 11:54 PM

As gifts keep coming in, one fund to help victims and responders is poised to start distributing money.

Much of the money that poured in to help victims and their families shortly after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse will start getting distributed this week to groups that offer help such as counseling, medical cost reimbursement and other aid.

The Minnesota Helps - Bridge Disaster Fund now has more than $564,000, organizers said. Churches, charities and other groups helping disaster victims, families and first responders have submitted proposals showing the needs they expect and how their budgets were stretched because of their relief efforts in the days since the Aug. 1 collapse.

The fund is organized by several Twin Cities philanthropic foundations. Nearly 1,000 groups and people have contributed, organizers said.

Some of the money is from fundraisers such as concerts at the Fine Line Music Cafe, a mud football tournament, church collections and contributions from sports teams. Some people made gifts online.

"I think the message is that Minnesotans ... had a tremendous emotional and generous outpouring in response to the disaster," said Chris Langer, vice president of communications for the Minneapolis Foundation, one of the organizers of the Minnesota Helps fund.

That money comes on top of contributions made to organizations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and to various funds set up by neighbors, friends and employers to support specific victims.

Twin Cities Red Cross, for instance, raised $138,000 for bridge response. The organization cut off a call for donations the Friday following the collapse, believing it had enough, but now has tallied expenses so far at $203,000. The money went to hotel rooms for family members, gift cards to cover costs of incidentals for families, security for the Red Cross headquarters, which was near the bridge site, and other costs, spokesman Ted Canova said. Groups have already told the Red Cross about fundraisers that officials believe will cover unexpected costs, Canova said.

The Salvation Army Northern Division collected $56,000, spokeswoman Annette Bauer said. Some businesses also donated food and drinks, including Target, Macy's and Cub Foods and lots of restaurants, Bauer said. The Salvation Army served meals to rescue and recovery workers and helped some families with expenses such as funeral costs, she said.

Jim Hausmann, whose brother Peter Hausmann died in the collapse, said the support was important as families waited for word of their loved ones near the collapse site. "Somebody was always there to ask what they could do," he said.

An attorney coordinating free legal representation from 17 law firms for about 30 of the bridge victims and their families, Philip Sieff, said needs for assistance will continue locally.

Some injured victims are facing losing jobs, some are having trouble with bills, some can't get transportation to medical appointments and many need ongoing counseling because of the trauma, he said.

"It's important that the community remember that these victims are very much struggling with their injuries and their losses, and the resources available to them to cope with day-to-day needs, let alone long-term needs, are very limited and not very well-known," he said.

Sieff, with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, said mental health needs for bridge victims are greater than many in the public may have anticipated. And lots of other needs will linger, too: "Now that the recovery is done, the people most directly affected cannot be left to try and struggle through these issues on their own, when they were clearly not the cause of their suffering."

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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