Americans get creative to help tsunami victims

Sunday, January 2, 2005

BOSTON -- A Kentucky widow, moved by the cries of grief she heard in reports about the tsunami disaster in south Asia, invited her entire town to a New Year's Eve bash to raise money for the victims.

In California, a college offered free basketball tickets, with a gift for relief efforts the only price of admission.

A group of children in a Seattle suburb stood out in the rain offering "Hot Chocolate for Tidal Wave Relief!" and raised $255.

In ways large and small, people around the country have found ways to help victims of one of history's worst natural disasters.

The official death toll from the disaster has reached 123,000 but the United Nations estimates that figure to reach 150,000.

"I can say the outpouring has been amazing," said Coco McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Oxfam International relief agency. "Even though it's happening on the other side of the world, it feels so close."

Oxfam said Friday it had received almost $6 million in unsolicited donations since the disaster on Dec. 26. The American Red Cross reported almost $44 million in donations from Americans by Thursday evening.

Three brothers ages 3 to 7 each dropped off sandwich bags containing a few dollars at the Mile High chapter of the Red Cross in Denver, according to spokesman Robert Thompson. The same chapter also accepted a $50,000 donation from a man who requested anonymity.

A group of children in Sammamish, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, stood in steady rain Wednesday selling hot chocolate to fight the chill. Eleven-year-old Thomas Wilson said he couldn't get the rising death toll of his mind

"It's so horrid, so terrible -- such a huge loss of family. And I couldn't do anything about it," he said. "Then I did this hot chocolate stand and it made me feel better."

Kids elsewhere around the country were similarly moved.

In New York City, six children ages 12 to 18 worked late Thursday and early Friday to make dozens of cookies, brownies and cupcakes for a door-to-door bake sale organized by Do Something, a youth service group.

Jeffrey Arias, a Boy Scout from Newbury, Mass., attends Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., with several students from areas hit hard by the giant waves. He and 15 friends stood outside banks and convenience stores Thursday and Friday with donation cans for the American Red Cross

"There's quite a big chance that friends of mine were hit," Arias said. "I can't just stand around and watch the news."

After hearing the victims' cries on news reports, Claire Neal, decided to throw a New Year's Eve fund-raiser at her house in Owensboro, Ky., a city of 54,000 on the Ohio River. A local business donated gourmet candy for the $50-per-ticket event.

"When I woke up, I thought 'I can do this, and I can do it right now,"' said Neal, 75, a widow who has hosted several community fund-raisers. She said people donated more than $7,000 Friday night and she expects to get more in the mail.

The University of California at Santa Barbara athletic department offered free admission to the Gauchos' basketball game Thursday to anyone who brought a donation of canned food, bottled water or a piece of clothing.

"You look at the number of children and the amount of damage and the shape the world is in over there compared to the lives we get to live here," head coach Bob Williams said. "It's a chance to do a small, minute thing."

For the next month, Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market will collect donations in a 4-foot bronze pig that stands in the center of the farmers' market. In Elizabeth City, N.C., Jacklyn Phillips, plans to collect 1,000 used bicycles and, with the help of local prison inmates, refurbish them and ship them to Indonesia so people can get around on damaged roads.

Sri Lankan native Preethi Burkholder is charging $15 for a benefit slide show of her homeland Monday in Aspen, Colo. In Hawaii, North Shore Catamaran Charters plans to donate all proceeds from a special sunset whale watch cruise on Jan. 14 to tsunami victims.

New Delhi native Naveen Sachar hopes to net $10,000 from a Jan. 7 fund-raiser he arranged at a Chicago bar. His relatives in central India were unhurt, but he said he mourns for victims and survivors who've lost everything.

"We were opening Christmas gifts that morning and people there were trying to recover bodies," said Sachar, a 36-year-old business consultant. "The least we can do is raise some money to help."

Associated Press writers Kim Hefling in Evansville, Ind., Jan Dennis in Peoria, Ill., Elizabeth M. Gillespie in Seattle and Jon Sarche in Denver contributed to this report.

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