Tsunami relief efforts gain momentum in Columbia

Thursday, December 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:35 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Columbia residents have donated $3,000 so far to the Boone County chapter of the American Red Cross to help tsunami victims in southern Asia.

After a slow start, the local Red Cross collected $2,800 Wednesday, said Jutta Hopkins, executive director for the Boone County chapter.

“We had donations all the way from $3 to $500,” Hopkins said, “and everything counts.”

Hopkins said she is amazed at the response of those who have mailed or dropped off donations.

“We have had a couple of school kids, a couple of college kids, a brother and sister came in, gave us the money, some retired servicemen that have been over in that area before, and just regular people that don’t tell us who they are,” she said.

Local resident Dan Fritz donated after watching and reading news accounts of bodies washing up on shore and millions of people left homeless.

“I felt like I needed to do something,” Fritz said. “It is a giving time of the year, anyway.”

MU’s International Center is hosting a meeting today to exchange information on how to help victims of the disaster.

Ranadhir Mitra, faculty adviser to the Cultural Association of India, says that he and others plan to hold fund-raisers. He hopes today’s meeting will enable them to combine their resources.

Mitra is skeptical of relief agencies that are political or religious because he says they have their own underlying agendas.

“Truthfully, there are some new groups out there just to make money for themselves,” Mitra said. “That is why we have to be cautious in selecting a group to channel our donations.”

Religious groups in and around Columbia are also setting up funds to send money to help disaster victims. The United Methodist Church is encouraging people to send money through their local church or through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the church’s disaster relief agency, said Bishop Robert Schnase.

“When we see such profound suffering and loss, our faith invites us to ask, ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ ” Schnase said.

Cathie Brooks of Congregation Beth Shalom said the Union for Reform Judaism has opened an Asian Earthquake Relief Fund. Other organizations such as the American Jewish World Service have also opened relief funds, Brooks said, and are urging their members to donate.

Trinity Presbyterian Church is encouraging its congregation to send money to its Presbyterian Disaster Assistance fund, church secretary Lily Chang said.

Sister JoAnn Schmidt of Our Lady of Peace Monastery says the monastery will send money to South Asia through Catholic Relief Services.

However, not everyone wants to contribute with just money. The local Red Cross has heard from people offering to go to South Asia and help with relief efforts, Hopkins said.

“We’ve had a host of people that have volunteered from heavy construction to psychologists and health workers,” she said. “This is really striking at the heart strings of Columbians.”

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