Americans donate dollars to victims by the bootful

In Washington, firefighters are conducting a "boot drive." At rush hour, they're asking passersby to fill fire boots with cash for the needy families of New York rescue workers.

In New Orleans, a television fundraising effort collected $300,000 in a day. A public-housing development that's among the city's poorest donated more than $1,000.

In Los Angeles, celebrities are spiffing up for a charity TV broadcast Friday. The show will be aired by all the big networks in a display of cooperation not seen since ... well, never, actually.

In the wake of last week's terrorist disasters, Americans are opening hearts and wallets in an unprecedented wave of charitable giving.

"The response has been more immediate, more overwhelming, and more broad-based than any I've ever seen," says Dorothy Ridings, president of the Council on Foundations in Washington.

By Thursday, big charities had raised well over $250 million to aid those harmed by the strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The amount was skyrocketing by the hour.

The Red Cross had received more than $118 million. The September 11th Fund - set up by the United Way, the New York Community Trust, and other organizations - had more than $100 million in cash and pledges.

A surprising amount of the money is coming via the Internet. The American Red Cross says that 40 percent of its $118 million arrived that way. President Bush, on Tuesday, cited a website set up by US high-tech firms - libertyunites.org - that raised $55 million in a week.

"Our compassion and generous citizens have led the first phase in the war on terrorism," said President Bush. "They have sustained and strengthened the home front."

Digging deep is one way that many Americans have found to cope with the grief and anger they have struggled with in recent days.

Jenny Bartley and her husband, Rick, often go to lunch together. He is an accountant, and she is a secretary in a law firm. They work near each other in downtown Pittsburgh. Last Friday, they were strolling down Smithfield Street when they saw a local Red Cross representative standing in front of a church.

When they reached the contribution box "we didn't say anything," says Mrs. Bartley. "We just looked at one another and pulled out our wallets."

They threw in $20. They're planning to send a check for more. "It just struck ... us how suddenly this can happen and how emotionally unprepared a city could be," says Bartley. "Everybody needs to help, even if it's just a little bit."

Yasmina Samahi says she often gives to relief organizations in times of need. She also donated to the Red Cross in the wake of last week's tragedies.

Ms. Samahi is a volunteer at the Arab American Cultural Community Center in Houston, and is of Arab heritage herself.

"I'm an American, and when there is a tragedy, I try to give something," she says. "And this is the most horrific tragedy that has happened to the country."

She says she knows many Arab-Americans who are giving all they can, either through donations or services or other support. "We're not giving out of a sense of guilt. People are in need," she says.

The desire to raise money, even if only in small amounts, appears to be particularly pronounced in the young. It's one way they can feel they are becoming involved in some way in the response to what many see as a defining event of their lifetimes.

A High Schools for Heroes program started by a small group of teenagers in Pennsylvania and Connecticut is funneling money to the September 11 Fund. In Springfield, Va., young entrepreneurs raised $600 the old-fashioned way - selling lemonade. An Alabama college group drove 20 hours to New York just to serenade rescue workers with patriotic music.

Abby Hine, an eighth-grader at Emanuel Lutheran in Houston, says her school's student council has decided to sell ribbons for $1 each, with the proceeds going to charity. The move will help the school's student body feel they have done something real, says Abby.

"We felt like we wanted to do something beyond words," she says.

Individual Americans aren't the only ones writing checks, of course. Corporate America has been generous as well, from McDonald's donation of 15 semi-trailers of food for rescue workers to Microsoft's $10 million gift to the September 11 Fund.

E-Bay is hosting an Auction for America charity initiative. Music groups from the Backstreet Boys to Earth Wind & Fire are earmarking a percentage of concert receipts for victim relief.

Nor is giving limited to Americans. Ms. Ridings says she has been contacted by organizations in Germany, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Canada, among others. She even got an offer of aid from poverty-stricken Bangladesh.

"I was speechless," she says.

One cautionary note: Ridings warns that many scam artists are already at work. Make sure the charity you're responding to is a legitimate one, she warns. One way to find out who you're dealing with is to ask what the charity's administration fee, or overhead costs, are. "If it's a legitimate charity, they will tell you."

Staff writers Mark Sappenfield in Salt Lake City and Ron Scherer in New York contributed to this report.

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