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Local Donations Coming in at Record Pace

By Olin Ericksen and Gene Williams
Staff Writer

September 13 -- From a down-home car wash at a Pico Neighborhood church to a fancy wine tasting at the Santa Monica Airport, local residents this weekend continued to come to the aid of Hurricane Katrina’s victims.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the local chapter of the Red Cross had counted $394,000 in donations and trained 628 volunteers, 42 of whom have been deployed to the Gulf Coast, where the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history has erased entire towns.

“We’ve had an incredible response,” said John Pacheco, executive director of the local chapter of the Red Cross. “We’ve had people using their credit cards and putting as much as $10,000 down.”

Ever since the levees broke in New Orleans on August 29, large and small fundraising events around town have been going on almost non-stop. From the thousands in loose change collected at local lemonade stands to a $10,000 check donated by a Los Angeles television station, the local Red Cross has been tallying donations at a record pace.

“I suspect that (Sunday’s $394,000 tally) will be much higher,” Pacheco said. “A lot of people are donating online.”

Pacheco expects the donations will “jump dramatically,” doubling the current total when a more accurate tally is taken at the end of the week.

At the current pace, Pacheco said, the local chapter could surpass the $1.3 million raised after a devastating tsunami washed through Southeast Asia last December.

In addition to the money raised online and at the gala wine-tasting event held Saturday at the airport’s Barker Hanger, a fundraiser in Pacific Palisades organized by a 14-year-old girl and attended by California First Lady Maria Shriver netted $19,000 for the local Red Cross this weekend.

In addition to collecting donations and raining volunteers, the local chapter has processed 26 cases, helping to shelter a total of 38 hurricane victims, Pacheco said.

Many who are relocating to Santa Monica are shocked by the housing prices, even the white collar workers, Pacheco said.

“There’s going to be sticker shock, but everyone experiences that when they come to California,” Pacheco said. “Most of those we talked to traveled this way because they had families here and are staying with relatives.”

The clients, Pacheco said, pick where they would like to relocate, and FEMA provides housing assistance for the first six months. The Red Cross tries to find housing the victims came call home for the long haul, he said.

“We look for housing people can afford,” Pacheco said. “We don’t try to place people in housing they can’t afford on a long-term basis.”

Jorge Casuso contributed to this report
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