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Biggest nonprofits catch a wave of post-attack funds

Checks are pouring in to charities for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with pledges rising quickly past $500 million, even as officials try to get a handle on the number of relief efforts and how best to coordinate them.

The wave of financial support after the attacks, whether small offerings from schoolchildren or $10 million corporate bequests, is already reaching victims and their families who are trying to cover the rent or pay for funerals.

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Officials say the $500 million figure is a rough estimate, and likely low.

New York's Charities Bureau estimated $500 million at a minimum, with at least 100 relief organizations soliciting funds. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a biweekly newspaper of the nonprofit world, estimated $558 million.

The American Red Cross said pledges hit $202 million by last Tuesday; donations to last month's multi-network telethon brought in $150 million in pledges; The September 11 Fund brought in $115 million; the Salvation Army reported $25 million in the New York area alone; Catholic Charities USA reported $1 million.

In addition, an estimated $128 million was pledged in grants from corporations and foundations not associated with the Red Cross or September 11 Fund, according to the Chronicle. Some of that could be counted by other organizations.

"We've got just hundreds of checks coming in. We're trying to keep up," said Kathy Whelpley with the Survivors' Fund of the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region.

The fund, which will help pay long-term needs like medical care, counseling, and scholarships for victims of the Pentagon attack, has collected $4 million, she said.

The Red Cross donations surpassed all previous fund-raising records following a catastrophe, said Devorah Goldburg, at the organization's headquarters in Washington.

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The organization raised $10 million after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, $24 million after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and $104 million after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

With the money piling up, charities are under pressure to get assistance quickly to the vcitim's families.

The Red Cross took the lead by announcing it had started handing out $100 million to relatives of those killed in the terrorist attacks. Under the plan, individual families will receive up to $30,000 each in tax-free grants designed to cover immediate financial needs such as funeral expenses, rent, and mortgage payments.

The September 11 Fund, which will distribute all donations to smaller nonprofit groups, made its first grant of $1.2 million last week, and is studying another 19 proposals, said Ani Hurwitz, spokeswoman for the New York Community Trust which, along with the United Way of America, is administering the September 11 Fund.

She said the fund had been involved in frantic consultations with between 300 and 400 other agencies in an effort to disperse cash quickly and efficiently.