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The special handling financed under the bill is already creating some degree of backlash. “It’s like a big slap in the face,” said LaDonna Battle, who lost both her parents to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
“It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing,” said Battle, who said she had to take her children out of private school because she could no longer afford the tuition. “It hurts, when people start to pick and choose what ä kind of tragedy means something, and which ones don’t.”
Like the government, the insurance industry responded vigorously to the disaster, establishing a warehouse-sized claims center on Pier 94 along the New York waterfront, where as many as a dozen firms process hundreds of claims daily. In addition, according to Bill Bailey, a spokesman for the New York Insurance Disaster Coalition, several “claims vans” are posted near Ground Zero. Historically in major disasters, insurers cover about two-thirds of the losses incurred, said Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Institute. “In this case, that figure may well be higher,” Hartwig said.
In the meantime, the fundraising continues, a national phenomenon with a life of its own. The urge to pitch in has spurred lemonade stands and bake sales, fund drives by media conglomerates and a parade of $10-million corporate donations. The Cincinnati Reds donated a day’s salary. Hip-hop heavy Dr. Dre kicked in a cool million. “We had one woman who called in and wanted to donate her skin,” said an aid worker with Connecticut-based AmeriCares.
Along with the flag fad, the impulse to give has emerged as a signature of the public response to the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. “It’s absolutely unprecedented,” said Dorothy Ridings, president of the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C. “Nothing’s ever come close to this at all.”
Like Borochoff at the Institute of Philanthropy, Ridings said the response seemed more rooted in individual feelings than in answer to specific needs. “It’s just the horror of the thing. I think every one of us feels violated.”
Ridings said she fielded one call from a foundation in Bangladesh seeking to make donations. “I just had to think of all the terrible problems they have there,” Ridings said.
Bob Phillips, a marketing executive with Coca-Cola, which donated $12 million to several national and New York relief agencies in response to the terror attacks, reflected on the impulse to give in a telephone interview.
“We really didn’t go out looking for publicity on this,” Phillips said. “People tend to look at that with a jaundiced eye. It’s more internal than that. We’re all searching for some sort of response to what happened. A lot of people feel lost. We’re wondering, ‘What do I do? How do I rid myself of this despair inside?’”
For Phillips, for the Coca-Cola Company, and for individuals all across the country, that means writing a check, making a donation. “It’s cathartic for all of us,” Phillips said.
As the weeks go by, new players are devising new ways to make that connection. Last Tuesday, 80 movie-theater chains across the country donated the day’s proceeds to the Red Cross. October 11, the one-month anniversary of the attacks, will be commemorated at restaurants across the country with a “Dine for America” campaign. In Southern California, Wells Fargo Bank is soliciting donations on its ATM screens. And on the Web, auction site eBay is pressing on with its $100-million-in-100-days promotion.
While nobody’s ready to call a halt to the upwelling generosity, charity watchdogs like Borochoff are becoming wary. “What I’m worried about is that when it gets in the news that some people are receiving millions of dollars in payments, there’s going to be a backlash,” Borochoff said. “We’re asking people to pace themselves.”
Jennifer Smith, in New York, contributed to this story.