Americans Giving Big to Haiti Relief Effort

More money has already been given than in the same period after Katrina.

January 17, 2010, 5:37 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2010— -- The lines were long -- a crush of people -- all in front of the Haitian embassy today.

Cars were double parked, creating a traffic nightmare, but these people were hoping to ease the nightmare in Haiti after the devastating earthquake.

All of them were dropping off donations of water, diapers and food.

Americans have been giving at what could be a record pace. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, as of Saturday, $150 million has been donated by Americans.

That's more than the U.S. government has committed so far, and more than was raised in the same time period after Hurricane Katrina and after the tsunami in Asia. The American Red Cross has collected $12 million through cell phone texting already.

"That's what's so incredible about this. People are really motivated. They see those pictures of everyone suffering and they're giving as fast as they can," said Stacy Palmer, the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

At American Red Cross headquarters here, its International Disaster Center was buzzing today. One worked held a phone to each ear trying to book a charter flight.

The group got its first supplies into Haiti on Saturday and the level of deliveries was growing quickly. Seven trucks were expected to arrive today in Port Au Prince.

But controversy already surrounds one small charity, Yele Haiti, which was founded by Haitian-American and Grammy Award winning singer Wyclef Jean.

After reports that Jean's business interests are intertwined with the charity, the singer took to YouTube to defend himself and his charity, calling the allegations "an attack on my integrity and my foundation."

The Associated Press and obtained Yele Haiti's tax returns, and the 2006 return shows some of Jean's businesses -- a studio and a production company -- were paid rent and fees by the charity.

"I never and would ever take money for my personal pocket when it comes to Yele," Jean said in the video statement, adding, "Not only do I denounce all that, I am disgusted by that."

Haitian Earthquake Aid a Test for American Red Cross

For the American Red Cross, this disaster is turning into a test of sorts after a difficult decade of controversy and management upheaval. After 9-11 the agency was accused of hoarding donations for other disasters. And after Katrina there were accusations that some workers misused funds.

"They've had a lot of time over these past several years to really get it together and recognize what their problems are, but we haven't really seen them put to the test. So that's what's this disaster is going to be. And they know it and they're very aware of it," Palmer said.

A new president is in charge, Gail McGovern, who is in Santo Domino, Dominican Republican, and planning to enter Haiti Tuesday to personally oversee the operations.

Back at headquarters, her staff said they are up to the task.

"We're ready. We're definitely ready and you can see it. We have the systems and the capacity to build up and expand what we do and to really be a conduit," said Tracy Reines Director of International Response Center for the American Red Cross.

Palmer said she sees hopeful signs.

"My sense is they're going to do a lot better. They have a leader who understands what they're doing," she said. "But we will have to wait and see what happens."

While Americans might hope their donation is buying a bottle of water or an energy bar for a Haitian without a home, at this point most of the money is being spent on gasoline.

"What you're buying mostly is that logistical support. They're trucking in a lot of these supplies right now because the ports have been destroyed," Palmer said.

And even though all those people at the embassy Sunday were dropping off goods, most charities would rather have cash.

"While it's a wonderful instinct for people to say I want to give a blanket to someone who needs it, don't do that. That's not helpful," Palmer said. "The charity can get it much cheaper, much faster, more quickly, if you give cash."

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