After a disaster, charities shift into high gear

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2007 - 1:01 PM

Knowing how to get aid or make wise donations can be a hurdle after a traumatic event.

Marcelo Cruz, 26, of Crystal, is a paraplegic whose van almost hurtled off the brink of the Interstate 35W bridge when his brakes failed to hold on the sloping concrete. He steered into a barrier and was rescued, but wrecked his van.

Natalie Hayes, his employer, wanted to set up a fund to help Cruz replace the vehicle, but didn't know where to start.

"What do you do?" Hayes asked. "You want to do some good, but you want to do it right."

Tragedy, by its nature, doesn't come with an instruction manual. Some in need aren't sure how to seek aid, while those who want to help are wary of the crooks who inevitably follow trouble.

Hayes and friends opted to set up a fund through the North Star Bank used by Arthur's Jewelers, where Cruz is a goldsmith.

Donations will go toward replacing his specially equipped van on which he had liability, but not collision, insurance.

"He's a man of limited means but always has a smile on his face," Hayes said. "They told him it could be as long as two months before his van could be airlifted."

For others caught in the quandary of seeking aid, the logistics got easier this week when some of the Twin Cities' top philanthropic institutions joined to form the Minnesota Helps -- Bridge Disaster Fund.

Contributions are pooled and then distributed to groups helping victims, families and responders pay for medical treatment, mental health counseling, recovery and cleanup activities.

Christelle Langer, vice president for marketing and communications with the Minneapolis Foundation, which administers the fund, said that more than $70,000 has been donated by more than 250 people as of Thursday afternoon.

In addition, the Northwest Area Foundation, the Twin Cities United Way, McKnight Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation have so far contributed $125,000.

Tax-deductible contributions may be mailed to Minnesota Helps -- Bridge Disaster Fund, the Minneapolis Foundation, 800 IDS Center, 80 S. 8th St., Minneapolis, MN 55402, or go to www.minnesotahelps.org.

  • DONATING WISELY During a disaster, be wary of any group that has the time to be calling you for money. According to the Charities Review Council, established disaster-relief organizations are often too busy to implement a direct phone campaign at such times. Other tips include: • Get information: Don't be swayed by emotional appeals or high-pressure pitches, especially if the charity urges you to give immediately or refuses to send information. • Get credit: For a donation to be tax-deductible, the recipient must be a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Check with a tax adviser or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) . • Don't give cash: It can be stolen or lost. Write a check or use a credit card, but only give your credit-card number if you initiated contact with a legitimate charity. • Check them out: Look up information on charitable organizations at www.SmartGivers.org/GivingGuide.
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