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Small fund-raisers for victims start to add up

Haiti, February 10, 2010

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Stephanie Strom

The New York Times
February, 2010

Devin Greene celebrated his seventh birthday on Saturday. His party raised $1,025 for Mercy Corps to support its charity work in Haiti.

Asked how much he thought he might raise, Devin said, “About $200.”

He said he had been inspired by his teacher, who told his first-grade class in Portland, Ore., that “there are a lot of bad things happening to other people.”

For Dina Yazdani, a junior at Lincoln High School in Portland, it was an urgent sense that she and her classmates needed to do something to help after the earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

A few days later, in a speech at a school assembly, Dina tacked on a pitch for $1 contributions. Students gave $325 during the assembly and a total of $1,115 over the week, which was also donated to Mercy Corps.

“We’re hoping it will go toward food and shelter,” Dina said.

Thousands of tiny fund-raisers to gather donations for Haiti are taking place in bars, schools and stores across the country, collecting small pots of money that are beginning to add up.

These grass-roots efforts are sometimes amiss — fund-raisers are still being held for Doctors Without Borders, for example, which announced several weeks ago that it had enough money for its work in Haiti — but many relief groups say they are invaluable.

“You don’t want to discourage these kinds of things because they can be the beginning of a much deeper relationship that leads people to more significant action and involvement,” said Nancy Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps, a relief and development group based in Portland.

Mercy Corps has even developed a system that allows people to create individual fund-raising pages on its Web site that they can then publicize through social networks, like book groups and Facebook. MathWorks Inc., a software company, has raised more than $41,000 through its page, and Mercy Corps has raised a total of $830,000 using the system.

Bar parties are perhaps the most popular grass-roots way to raise money. About a hundred people, including the actress Chloe Sevigny, turned out last Thursday night for a fund-raiser featuring the singers Ari Up of the band The Slits and Lady Miss Kier of Deee-lite at Le Poisson Rouge, a club in downtown Manhattan. Proceeds from the event went to the work of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

Justine Delaney, the club’s music director, said she did not know about the organization’s announcement that it had enough money but said she would direct the proceeds to its efforts in Haiti anyway.

“They’ll be there for awhile,” Ms. Delaney said, “so I’m sure they’ll be able to use it.”

Jason Cone, communications director for Doctors Without Borders, wrote in an e-mail message that the organization was now asking donors to contribute to its general emergency relief fund, but that it would still accept donations earmarked for Haiti. “We realize that there is still a groundswell of support for our projects in Haiti,” he said.

Tannaz Sassooni, an animation technical director and former food blogger, recently held a giant bake sale in Los Angeles to raise money for Doctors Without Borders to use in Haiti. With donations from 50 bakers, the sale raised $5,307.27.

But after talking to Doctors Without Borders, Ms. Sassooni said she had agreed instead to donate the money to its general emergency fund.

“They told us about their inflatable hospital, which is just so amazing, and how having money in that fund gives them a reserve to support them as soon as a disaster happens,” Ms. Sassooni said. “They can best figure out how to put the money to good use.”

Businesses have also gotten into the action. Michael Herklots, general manager of Davidoff of Geneva, a Madison Avenue cigar store, held a fund-raiser with the Park Avenue Liquor Shop to benefit the Red Cross.

Turning customers into donors, Mr. Herklots said, was a spur of the moment opportunity to “pull a little at their heartstrings, for a good cause.”

And an opportunity to drum up a little extra business?

“Not at all,” said Jonathan Goldstein, senior vice president of the liquor store. “These folks are already our customers, and they’re going to buy whether we do this or not.”