State urges residents to assist survivors of Hurricane Katrina, warns of possible charity scams
Since Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the southern United States, people throughout the country and world have joined forces to help the victims who have been displaced by the effects of the disaster.
As the relief efforts go forward, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection warns Carbon County residents of fraudulent or misleading charitable solicitors who may want to profit from the generous spirit and heart of Americans.
"Don't automatically say yes when asked to give money or buy an item in the name of those affected by Katrina," said Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce and Consumer Protection.
"We are already beginning to get the phone calls from responsible citizens wanting to know if those they are being contacted by are registered charities. Utahns have a tradition of stepping up to help others and that's something we can take pride in, but in the coming hours and days don't let empathy be against us," said Giani.
The Utah Division of Consumer Protection registers and monitors all charities in the state.
The agency offers the following advice as Utah and Carbon County move with the nation into the period of responding to the natural disaster:
Consumers should know the charity.
People should never give to a charity unless they know its history, purpose and reputation.
Local residents should listen closely to the name of the charity.
Before contributing, consumers should be sure the name is one they know and respect.
People should watch for copycat names that closely resemble a well known charity.
Consumers should not be fooled by a hard-luck tale.
Carbon County residents should base contributions on factual relevant information only.
People should request information about the charity.
Consumers should determine exactly how the charity plans to assist the victims before donating to the organization.
Local residents should listen for disclosures.
People should ask telephone solicitors to give the name of the company which employs them.
People should also be suspicious of anyone who does not volunteer or provide the information.
Carbon residents should verify the charity's filing status with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.
State law requires that, except for certain excluded groups, organizations which solicit contributions in Utah to file with the division. Visit http://www.dcp.utah.gov/ to view a list of registered charities in Utah. Or call (801) 530-6601.
Consumers should not give cash to a solicitor.
Instead, people should write checks payable to the charity, not the individual solicitor.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman indicated that one organization that is already prepared and can use the donations of Utahns is the Red Cross.
"In the past year, the Red Cross spent more than $134 million providing relief across the nation," said Huntsman. "The people of Utah are generous and compassionate citizens who are ready to help neighbors in time of need."
To donate to the Disaster Relief Fund, members of the public may call (800) HELP-NOW or visit the Red Cross Web site at http://www.redcross.org/.
In addition, as of Sept. 1, people may call (866) 873-2437 (a toll free number through the Department of Health) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer time, resources, and professional assistance and obtain any additional information on volunteer opportunities.
United Ways of Utah has established a hotline for those who wish to donate to local relief efforts.
"We received a lot of interest from people who wanted to donate money, but wanted the donation to be earmarked for local efforts," said Deborah Bayle-Nielsen, President of United Way of Salt Lake. "One-hundred percent of the donations will be used for the relief efforts."
Interested parties should call (801) 736-8929 or visit the United Way Web site at http://www.uw.org/.
More information of charity efforts can be obtained by calling the state's information and referral line. From any land-line phone, Utah residents can call 211 for more information.
Michael Brown, under secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security and head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that while the charity offered through relief organizations will certainly benefit the victims of Katrina, volunteers should not report directly to the affected areas unless directed to do so by a volunteer agency.
"We are grateful for the outpouring of support already," said Brown. "But it's important that volunteer response is coordinated by professionals who can direct volunteers with the appropriate skills to the hardest-hit areas where they are needed most. Self-dispatched volunteers and especially sightseers can put themselves and others in harm's way and hamper rescue efforts."
As far as Utah's efforts to aid victims are concerned, the Utah National Guard is prepared to deploy between 200 and 250 soldiers and airmen. Two KC 135 aircraft were prepared for deployment as early as last Thursday. Each could carry as many as 50 evacuees. The planes were scheduled to arrive back in Salt Lake City late Saturday.
Last Saturday, 152 hurricane survivors were scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City on a Jet Blue airline.
Those efforts come in response to a request for assistance from Kathleen Blanco, governor of Louisiana.
"Utah was one of four states (including Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma) asked of assistance. That says something good about our state and our citizens," said Huntsman. "The selection of those chosen to come to Utah is undetermined at this point, but we are a willing recipient."
The executive director of the Utah Department of Health, Dr. David Sundwall, is prepared to receive the hurricane victims and provide health screenings and meet any immediate medical needs upon their arrival in Utah.
Verdi White, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Services with the Department of Public Safety is coordinating with all agencies to help ensure a smooth transition and to deploy troops for security in the affected states as necessary.
Pamela Atkinson is working with numerous volunteer and community services to prepare for the victims and create an acceptable quality of life. "Utah is so well known for its volunteer and community services, I think we will be overwhelmed with donations and volunteers," said Atkinson. "We will have no problem rising to the challenge of helping these people in need."