Last Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Documentaries and news reports once again reminded me of the devastation and heartache that was left in its wake. Over 1,800 people lost their lives and more than 1 million were displaced, sparking a Diaspora throughout the southern states. Images of emaciated people wading through sewage infested waters, abandoned it seems by everyone are flashed across the screen intermixed with pictures of the remnants of what used to be bustling cities left looking more like war zones after the waters receded. When it was over, there were nearly 1 million homes destroyed reaching from Texas to Alabama and an estimated $150 billion in damages . The focus of these reports was almost always New Orleans- the city once known for its vibrant jazz scene, culinary delights, and infamous French Quarter that was reduced to rubble covered in three feet of water, sewage, and human remains in a matter of minutes. And then of course the blame game- who is at fault? The government? FEMA? The levee engineers? The city of New Orleans? Who?
Although it is important to remember the past and to discern the facts and reasons for the immense tragedy in New Orleans whether it was faulty levee engineering or a lack of preparation and leadership, I believe that it is almost more important to focus on the future- on recovery- on rebuilding- on the future of the Gulf Coast. We need to reflect on what has been done and what steps need to be taken in order to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast back to its golden ages.
Over the last year, foundations and corporations throughout the United States have stepped up to this challenge. Understanding the immediate need for resources not only for emergency relief efforts, but also to jumpstart the rebuilding process, foundations and corporations contributed over $577.1 million towards relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina according to a recent report by The Foundation Center, Giving in the Aftermath of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes: Report on the Foundation and Corporate Response. The report’s findings are based on the responses from 906 of the more than 3,500 large private and community foundations surveyed by the Center.
The report reveals that:
The report’s statistics also reflect Texas’ strong and outstanding commitment to philanthropy. Just like after September 11th when they contributed over $41 million to the cause, Texas’ foundations and corporations opened their hearts and their wallets once again to come to the aid of those in need. Trailing only to New York, Texas foundations and corporations have pledged nearly $52.2 million for Gulf Coast Hurricane relief and recovery efforts so far . Among the top donors include Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, the AT&T Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. These institutions have long been considered our state’s first responders. They stay abreast of critical situations and respond quickly when assistance is needed.
“It is important for foundations to respond in times of crisis,” said Linda P. Evans, president and CEO of The Meadows Foundation. “Our relationship with service providers helps us identify points of intervention in times of need, and our independence allows us to be of immediate help to those who may suffer."
The Meadows Foundation contributed nearly $5 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“Using the emergency grantmaking authority of the president, grants were awarded to relief organizations across the state to shelter and feed thousands of evacuees,” said Carol Stabler, Director of Communications for The Meadows Foundation. “Two grants totaling $283,000 went to the Breedlove Plant in Lubbock to help increase production and distribution of dehydrated food to emergency shelters and a $250,000 grant was awarded to Aidmatrix helping them to accelerate the implementation of supply chain software in order to enhance the delivery of emergency relief items given in Texas to areas where they were most needed.”
Additional grants were made to the American Red Cross, Texas Baptist Men, the Mental Health Association of Dallas, and several other healthcare providers, assisting them in meeting the immediate and longer-term health needs of evacuees living in Texas. As evacuees moved from temporary shelters into their newly adopted communities, the Foundations allocated additional grants to provide transitional housing and to hire case managers to ensure evacuees had access to medical, employment, and social services. This giving represented approximately 10 percent of The Meadows Foundation’s overall giving in 2005.
The Austin-based Michael & Susan Dell Foundation also pledged $5 million to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts supporting organizations such as The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities U.S.A, and the North Texas Food Bank.
"Our support goes out to the families affected by Hurricane Katrina," said Susan Dell, co-founder of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. "These people are faced with rebuilding their lives and their communities, and we need to help."
Like 75 percent of the foundations and corporations that contributed to hurricane relief efforts, both the Dell Family Foundation and The Meadows Foundation have supported other disaster relief efforts in the past. In December 2004, The Dell Family Foundation donated initial funding of $3 million to organizations helping those affected by the South Asia tsunami. It also provided an additional $1 million to WaterPartners International to provide clean water to developing countries, ensuring that an additional 200,000 children and adults in India will have ready access to safe drinking water over the next decade. All of these gifts are consistent with their mission to positively impact the lives of children around the world.
Although limited by its charter to only distribute funds to organizations within the state of Texas, The Meadows Foundation is still able to assist with disaster relief efforts in other areas through strategic funding practices.
“While The Meadows Foundation cannot provide direct assistance to national and international disasters, it is available to assist Texas organizations that are adversely impacted by these same disasters, either because they are called upon to care for evacuees/survivors, or because significant amounts of public and private funding are diverted to those impacted areas,” said Stabler. “Past disaster relief grants have included drought and heat relief aid to communities and help to organizations assisting people affected by floods, fires and tornados.”
Focus on the Future
Recognizing that the impact of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees on our state’s safety net will be long-term, The Meadows Foundation continues to monitor the situation and position itself to respond accordingly. Likewise, other funding institutions and nonprofit organizations are realizing that the relief and rebuilding processes are far from over. Although steps have been made, the progress has been slow by some standards. Hurricane survivors are still struggling to re-establish themselves in new communities, as well as emotionally and psychologically deal with the events from the past year. Volunteer groups are rolling up their sleeves and working around the clock in cities such as New Orleans to do what they can to reconstruct the physical shell of the city. The Department of Homeland Security is advancing its federal disaster response capabilities by increasing the nation’s relief supplies stockpiles by up to 400 percent in some cases (Ice), retooling FEMA, encouraging individual and community preparedness, supporting State and local partners and developing an updated and more effective and efficient disaster plan . But still…it is going to take a while. Continued support from the government, foundations, corporations, and individuals throughout the United States is critical for these efforts to progress.
Just recently, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation awarded another round of grants totaling $12.5 million to aid communities in Mississippi and Louisiana that were damaged by the storm. This brings their total hurricane response funding to over $36.3 million .
“As we rebuild communities, there’s a great opportunity to make social institutions more responsive and effective than before,” said James McHale, the Kellogg Foundation’s senior vice president for programs. “But to do that, we need to ensure that local people have a strong voice in the decision-making process. That’s why we’re working hard to strengthen and encourage community-based leadership.”
Other organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, RandomKid, Discovery Educator Network, and Cone Inc. are banding together to form collaborations that have far-reaching impact. Making Change for Katrina is one of them.
“Making Change for Katrina was born out of our agency’s response to the devastation in the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Rita and Katrina,” explained Michelle Mejia of Cone, Inc. “ Carol Cone, our founder and Chairman, decided that we needed to do more than just send a check.”
Therefore, a national-fundraising campaign to collect spare change to benefit the victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes was launched under the name Making Change for Katrina. Partnering with the Discovery Educator Network and RandomKid among others, Making Change for Katrina hopes to get kids involved in the project through spare change collections in classrooms throughout the United States.
“Making Change for Katrina is a simple way for kids to get involved and continue to make a difference in the lives of Katrina survivors,” said Talia Lemon, age 11 and co-founder of RandomKid. “When kids unite they are powerful and can do extraordinary things.”
Outside of classrooms and workplace collections, donations can be made at any Coinstar Center, online or by check. The money collected through this campaign will go to Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates houses through volunteer labor and donations and then sells them to partner families at no profit and with affordable, no interest loans.
“Habitat for Humanity addresses the long-term need of the Gulf Coast region, which we feel is integral to the health of the region,” said Mejia.
These are just a few of the many concerted efforts that are taking place throughout the country on the national, state, city, and individual levels. Foundations and corporations quickly responded to the need for immediate funds directly following the hurricanes and continue to award grants for long-term support; government officials are striving to create and implement improved disaster response mechanisms; and individuals including children are giving their time, talents, and money to a variety of projects assisting both the hurricane survivors and the rebuilding efforts.
Jack McGuire, the Interim President and CEO of the American Red Cross recently said, “The lesson of Katrina is that we must grow our minds to match our boundless hearts. We need to think bigger, explore the previously inconceivable and then prepare to meet it head-on.”
I couldn’t agree more. We must not dwell in the past, but move full force into the future. We must rebuild what was lost. Regain hope and joyful spirit. We must prepare and plan so that the same mistakes are not made twice. And finally, we must unite for a better tomorrow.
For more information on the Foundation Center’s Report, Giving in the Aftermath of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes: Report on the Foundation and Corporate Response, please visit their website at www.foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/research/specialtrends.
To contribute to Making Change for Katrina or to learn more about the campaign, you can visit their website at www.makingchangeforkatrina.org.
To obtain the grant guidelines of the foundations mentioned in this article, visit their websites at: The Meadows Foundation www.mfi.org, The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation www.msdf.org, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation www.wkkf.org
The Foundation Center, Giving in the Aftermath of the GulfCoast Hurricanes: Report on the Foundation and Corporate Response. 2006
August www.foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/research/specialtrends 4