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Give blood or cash, both are welcome

Where to donateIn the wake of disaster, Americans have always been quick to respond to victims' needs.

That altruism was immediately evident in the hundreds of thousands of people nationwide who lined up to donate blood following the New York and Washington, D.C., terrorist attacks. Even the squeamish hurried to help, making financial rather than physical contributions to national relief agencies.

The Internet and many national financial institutions make it easier than ever to lend a hand in troubled times. And while the motivation for the donations is selfless, contributors may reap a tax reward in addition to a spiritual one.

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National agencies eagerly accepting help
The familiar American Red Cross workers and volunteers are among the first to appear at natural and manmade disasters. In addition to supplying medical facilities with blood, the organization helps provide victims with temporary lodging, basic living supplies, furnishings, groceries, medications and transportation.

Persons wishing to donate can call (800) 435-7669 for more information in English or (800) 257-7575 for Spanish instructions. Local chapters also can provide guidance. Check out the agency's Web site to find the nearest Red Cross branch.

Online visitors can make a credit card donation using Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover. Or send a check or money order to the Red Cross national headquarters at P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

As with other financial transactions, never send cash donations. You are out of luck if it is lost and the canceled check or money order receipt can provide documentation for a tax deduction next filing season.

In addition to the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, United Way and AmeriCares have mobilized their disaster relief corps.

"Our canteens are fully stocked and our trained staff and volunteers are ready to go to the crisis scenes at a moment's notice," says Major Frank Kirk, Divisional Secretary for Business Administration for The Salvation Army in Northeast Ohio.

Call (866) 429-8888 toll-free to make a donation, or drop a contribution off at a local Salvation Army center, which can be found using the church's Internet search feature. Use Visa, Diner's Club, MasterCard or Discover cards to make online donations.

United Way contributors can donate online to that group's September 11th Fund. American Express, Visa or MasterCard are accepted by United Way.

Online donations to the international relief agency AmeriCares can be made using Accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express. If you prefer, contribute by phone at (800) 486-4357 or mail donations to AmeriCares Foundation, 161 Cherry Street, New Canaan, Conn. 06840.

Private partners lending a hand
To further facilitate post-disaster donations, groups regularly partner with humanitarian agencies. That is the case in the aftermath of the Pentagon and World Trade Center incidents.

Internet bookseller Amazon.com has set up a Red Cross contribution link. So has online payment service PayPal.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank and Firstar Bank, both subsidiaries of U.S. Bancorp, are accepting contributions at all branches. The money will be forwarded to the Red Cross. Check the bank's Web sites or call (800) 872-2657 for the nearest location.

Washington Mutual also is accepting donations on behalf of the Red Cross at any of its branches. Find one near you with the bank's Web site locator. Contributions should be made to account number 179-198417-3.

Don't have an account at these institutions? Check with your local bank. Often individual branches set up disaster funds to collect money for catastrophic incidents. Call your local newspaper or television and radio stations for possible disaster funds they sponsor. And don't forget about programs established by your neighborhood church or synagogue.

Patience and caution
The keys to making disaster-fund donations, whether in person, by phone or online, are patience and vigilance.

The outpouring of assistance has been a mixed blessing for the Red Cross, which acknowledged that some blood donors were unable to get through jammed phone lines or faced long waits at some collection centers.

Similar problems were reported by people wanting to make online contributions. The most frequent complaints: slow Internet response time and occasional error pages produced by the large number of Red Cross Web site visitors. The agency urges donors to keep trying, by phone, in person and online.

And make sure that any fund to which you contribute is an Internal Revenue Service qualified account. These are the only donations the agency will allow you to count when you itemize your deductions.

Too often during catastrophes, good-intentioned fund originators do not meet IRS deductibility muster when setting up the collections. Worse, scam artists gather money from well-meaning contributors and the money never makes it to the purported cause.

Organizations can tell you if they are qualified and if donations to them are deductible. Or search the IRS' online exempt organization list.

-- Posted: Sept. 12, 2001

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