Area pitches in to aid tsunami victims


Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Before President Bush formally urged Americans on Monday to dig into their pockets to help the tsunami victims, people in North Central Florida already had begun efforts to help those in the stricken countries.
By Monday, just more than a week after the catastrophe in South Asia, people in this area had sent nearly $11,000 in checks or via credit cards to the North Central Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Churches and synagogues have raised an untold amount in special collections at weekend worship services to assist in the disaster relief.
A Gainesville couple from Sri Lanka are coordinating a local fund-raising campaign to assist their homeland.
The University of Florida Swing Dance Club is planning a benefit Friday night to raise money for tsunami victims. Members of Gainesville's arts community are holding a silent auction benefit Sunday.
And a Bronson-based organization to feed the needy has launched a program to collect food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities for later distribution to the Indian Ocean countries devastated by the tidal wave.
"Everybody wants to help," said Kay Lenard, emergency services director for the eight-county Red Cross chapter based in Gainesville.
"We've been getting a lot of calls from people wanting to donate clothing and blankets," she said. "And a lot have said they want to go over to the affected areas, but we absolutely discourage that."
She said the Red Cross sends to such places only people who have been specially trained at the national level in disaster relief.
"We're asking now just for monetary donations," Lenard said.
In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, food and other noncash contributions would only heighten the logistical challenges of getting aid to where it is needed, she said.
Understanding that, the United Christian Children's Table is collecting supplies now that inevitably will be needed once the distribution system is running smoothly.
"We've started collecting food, clothing, toiletries and over-the-counter items to be shipped overseas later," said Bill Brown of Bronson, a member of Children's Table, which has distributed food to more than 5,000 needy families in North Central Florida.
"This thing will continue for a long time," he said. "We anticipate sending several semi-truck loads, with the first one going maybe by the end of the week. Davis Trucking in Starke is hauling the stuff to Jacksonville, and they're donating their services."
Kandiah and Dr. Subadra Sivakumaran of Gainesville are natives of a region in Sri Lanka that suffered some of the worst effects of the tsunami. Their immediate families survived, although they lost some relatives and friends.
They are helping raise money that will be sent to Sri Lanka through the Ilankai Tamil Sangam, a charity whose Florida headquarters is in Coral Springs. The organization is nearly 100 percent volunteer, Kandiah Sivakumaran said, and contributors can be assured that virtually all of their donations will be used to help people in refugee camps created by the tidal waves.
Civil and ethnic strife has existed for decades in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, he said. Since the tsunami, the rebel Tamil forces and the government have negotiated a temporary peace in order to work together to assist in the disaster, Sivakumaran said.
He and his wife, who practices medicine in Ocala, are Tamil and he is the local representative for the Ilankai Tamil Sangam charity. He said donations sent to the organization will be used primarily in refugee camps in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, which are primarily Tamil.
"But donations will help anyone in refugee camps without regard to ethnicity, religion or class," Sivakumaran said. "We just want to send help to people who are suffering from this calamity."
The Better Business Bureau's Wise-Giving Alliance has a Web site to help people feel more comfortable that their money is actually going to help others and not used mostly for administrative costs. Go to give.org for a list of some charities involved in tsunami relief and click on the link for tsunami relief for information on whether a listed charity meets accountability standards.
Bob Arndorfer can be reached at (352) 374-5042 or arndorb@gvillesun.com.

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