NEW YORK – Working in the shadow of the controversy surrounding the two giant national charities, American Red Cross and United Way, small community groups here are moving quickly and quietly to meet the needs of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, proving that community and affiliation-based organizations, unfettered by red tape, can efficiently speed aid to their neighbors.

Millions of Americans have hit the “donate” button on websites or dropped a $20 dollar bill in 9-11 collection boxes at malls in an unprecedented show of national solidarity and generosity. Most of the $1.5 billion donated in the wake of the attack on America landed in the coffers of The United Way’s September 11 Fund or The Liberty Fund of the American Red Cross. Recent reports from victims’ families that aired on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” have raised serious questions about the efficiency of these mega agencies.

Skirting both the agencies and the controversy, a wide range of organizations from the St. Vincent de Paul Society to Camp Comfort have quietly filled in the gap. Rotary and Kiwanis clubs have rushed to the aid of their chapters in New York and Washington, D.C. New York area schools and churches have raised funds for their own neighbors blind-sided by the attack on the World Trade Center.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York City’s Park East Synagogue built a partnership with Dr. Fred Anderson of Madison Avenue Presbyterian and the Rev. Boniface Ramsey of St. Vincent Ferrer’s Catholic Church.

“I reached out to my neighbors,” Schneier said, “and in addition to prayer and services, we wanted to do something in a concrete way.”

The Park East Synagogue shares a block of 67th Street with the 19th precinct of the New York Police Department and the 39th battalion of the New York Fire Department.

“It’s quite a block,” said Schneier. The 19th precinct lost one officer and the 39th battalion lost two firemen on Sept. 11.

Schneier was moved to launch his interfaith effort among the three neighboring congregations to raise funds for the educational needs of the children of police and firemen who lost their lives at the World Trade Center.

“All the funds raised – and the total will exceed $100,000 – will go to the children of the officers and firemen.”

Just around the corner from Park East Synagogue a Dominican nun, Sister Gail Morgan, is principal of St. Vincent Ferrer High School. Since Sept. 11, Sister Morgan has received more than $60,000 in small donations to aid her students. She began with a call to the school’s uniform company.

“One of our students lived near the Towers. She did not know when she went home that day there would be no apartment, no clothes,” said Sister Morgan. The uniform company donated new uniforms.

Next, Sister Morgan called on the Ohio school where she had been the principal, Fisher High School near Columbus, to spread the word that St. Vincent Ferrer students needed quick aid. St. Mary’s elementary in Lancaster, Ohio, sent $5,600 dollars raised by students during “dress down day.” The students paid 50 cents to dress in red, white and blue, and “because there are just 420 kids, some obviously gave more than 50 cents,” laughed Sister Morgan. St. Joseph’s in Amherst, Ohio, sent $2,500.

Sister Morgan hails from Cleveland, Ohio, where both her own family and her Dominican colleagues answered her call for help.

“The Ohio connection is so important. People just want to give where they know the money is going to a direct need,” she said.

St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland sent $1,000, and St. Anselm Parish in Chesterland, Ohio, sent $8,200.

“Some of the money was raised at garage sales, some with pizzas,” reported Sister Morgan. The money is given directly to school families, many of who are first-generation Americans from Eastern Europe and Central and South America.

“These families sacrifice to give their children a good education,” said the Dominican principal. “We have a girl whose father worked on the 101st floor of Tower 2. He is missing. The mother worked around the corner from the Towers. Her employers relocated upstate, and she could not move. We were able to give them rent money immediately, while agency help is still being applied for.”

Alumni of St. Vincent Ferrer from as far away as San Diego have sent donations to provide tuition for affected students.

Some nonprofit organizations have found that they can contribute to the direct needs of their members rather than making a donation to the mega funds. The Navy League, based in Arlington, Va., just two miles from the Pentagon, was founded 100 years ago to support the active-duty members of the sea services. Following the attack on the Pentagon, the group set up the Navy League Life Ring Fund. Contributions go to the specific aid of Navy and Marine families hurt in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack. Travel expenses, memorial service expenses and emergency child care and some indirect needs are met by the Navy League on behalf of its members.

These smaller agencies and organizations are free of the cumbersome regulations of the large agencies.

“[The Red Cross and United Way] have to follow stringent guidelines” that smaller organizations can bypass, notes Renata J. Rafferty, author of “Don’t Just Give It Away: How To Make the Most of Your Charitable Giving.”

Rafferty, principal of the Rafferty Consulting Group, a nonprofit and philanthropic consulting agency, agrees that the slow disbursement of the $1.5 billion given to the Red Cross and United Way is frustrating for donors as well as expectant recipients. As WorldNetDaily columnist Bill O’Reilly pointed out when Rafferty was a guest on “The Factor,” the money given by Americans to assist their fellow citizens through a tragic time sits unused in interest-bearing accounts earning new money. Meanwhile, legitimate and urgent needs remain unmet. O’Reilly has urged the government to send in a monitoring team.

Rafferty, however, who has advised prominent nonprofit and NGO institutions, echoes the sentiments of WorldNetDaily Editor Joseph Farah: “We do not need to create an oversight agency to monitor large charitable organizations. This was an unprecedented event, a one-time – God willing – event. We already have Intermediate Sanctions Regulations that are stringent. Each state has laws that, frankly, are pretty damn clear about what the regulations are, and there are severe financial penalties levied against the board of directors of a nonprofit that allows misappropriation of funds. We need to enforce those regulations.”

The difficulty, say nonprofit experts, is that Americans do not understand the process. First, the infrastructure in place at the time of the assault of 9-11 was not large enough to administer the huge flow of funds that poured into the agencies. This meant hiring new personnel, finding more desk space, purchasing computers and employing the requisite support staff. Secondly, the Red Cross and United Way do not disburse funds directly to victims. They function instead as clearinghouses, allocating funds to 160 smaller charities that in turn distribute the funds or goods to those who have been registered as bona fide victims. The process is too ponderous for many whose needs cannot wait.

Rafferty points out that Americans give $205 billion a year to charitable entities.

“This means that the $1.5 billion raised for 9-11 represents just 1/2 of 1 percent of the annual charitable donations. We don’t need a new government committee for that.”

Others have asked Americans who are inspired to make donations to reconsider local needs in their own cities. In the wake of the attack on America, funds that would normally be donated to local agencies have been sent to New York. In Orlando, Fla., Daily Bread, a soup kitchen serving indigents is facing a bleak Thanksgiving unless donations resume. A Daily Bread spokesman admitted to the organization’s urgent need.

“Our numbers increase as the cold weather up north sends the poor and homeless south. But our pantry is so low right now that we do not know how many we will be able to serve for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have families with children who rely on us for one meal a day,” he said.

Other local charities have expressed condolences for New Yorkers but worried that the rest of the country has been forgotten.

Austin Ruse of the New York-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute spoke to this growing refrain: “I would urge everyone to continue giving to the pro-life groups they already support. The charities in New York related to the crisis are awash in cash and much of it will never get to the direct victims’ families, [but] other fights continue.”

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