Las Vegas Sun

April 24, 2014

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Disasters not yet hurting donations to local charities

Donations to area charities are keeping pace with last year, even though Nevadans have been asked to open their hearts -- and their pocketbooks -- wider to help victims of two recent hurricanes and other major natural disasters, a United Way official said.

Dan Goulet, president and chief executive of United Way of Southern Nevada, warned that one more disaster could overload the system.

"Charities are going to be challenged because we've never before seen the number of disasters back to back that we've had recently," Goulet said.

"The typhoon (in the Indian Ocean), two hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) and the earthquake (in Pakistan) have come so quickly. Usually we have one disaster, then we get a period of time until there is another. If there is another disaster soon, it could be overwhelming for the local nonprofit (organizations)."

Sharon Mann, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, one of 70 local agencies that gets funding from United Way, agrees.

"I've never seen so many -- can I say cataclysmic? -- events in such a short period," said Mann, whose organization has helped 3,000 Katrina survivors with food, clothing, wheelchairs, baby supplies and strollers. "And now there is talk of a possible worldwide flu pandemic.

"There is no question that another disaster in the near future will take a toll on local nonprofit groups that help the survivors."

United Way, which funds 114 local programs, last month kicked off its annual drive that has a goal of at least $10 million this year.

Goulet said despite the public's generosity to help Hurricane Katrina victims -- including an estimated 4,200 survivors who have moved to Southern Nevada -- his organization's fundraising drive is 8.5 percent ahead of last year, with more than $1.5 million already collected.

Similarly, Mann said her organization is on pace with donations from the same period last year despite $150,000 in gifts earmarked for Katrina victims that cannot be used for local programs.

The agency, she said, will begin its Christmas season fundraising drive in early November and will "continue to need support for our programs."

Goulet said local charities have helped Katrina victims "with existing funds, which we know is going to create a financial burden on most of the programs in our community."

As a result, the local United Way has created the Hurricane Survivors Longterm Support Fund, which will reimburse charitable organizations that, because of their aid to Katrina victims, need additional dollars to fund their programs.

The fund has $50,000, including a $25,000 donation from the United Way's board members, $10,000 from Clark County, a $10,000 gift from an anonymous donor and $5,000 from a group of donors.

The fund is expected to grow in the next four months, Goulet said. The agency will accept requests from groups that qualify for reimbursements.

Mann said it is not yet known whether Catholic Charities will apply for some of those funds because it will first seek reimbursement of money spent on Katrina victims from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

"Because the network of local charities pulled together to help Katrina victims, it spread the burden," she said. That meant no one agency was forced to spend most of its resources helping hurricane victims and risk not having enough money to help potential local disaster victims.

Ed Koch can be reached at 259-4090 or at [email protected]

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