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Effusion Of Prayers, Aid After Tsunami

$10,000 Donations Are Among Area Generosity

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 29, 2004; Page B01

Help for Asia's tsunami victims arrived yesterday at the Richmond headquarters of the Christian Children's Fund in the form of a check -- for $10,000 -- presented without fanfare to the lobby receptionist.

Officials said the donor asked for no thanks. He merely strolled in about 3 p.m., dropped off the check to help victims of Sunday's cataclysmic natural disaster and left.

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It was not a singular act of kindness but one seen thousands upon thousands of times yesterday as Washington area residents inundated relief agency hotlines and Web sites with offers of money, clothing and food to aid those affected in the devastated coastal areas across South Asia.

"The phone just keeps ringing," said Richard Muffley, systems manager at the Center for International Disaster Information, which guides donors to relief groups. "It's one after the other. . . . People often have heavy hearts based on what they see on the television and they want to contribute somehow, some way."

The phones in the College Park office of the Association for India's Development, a nonprofit organization based in Maryland, have barely stopped ringing.

"It's almost every minute," said Bhagat Mohan, a member of the group's board of directors. "A lot of people have given $100. One gave $10,000. People are saying they'd like to go to India and work as volunteers."

As of yesterday afternoon, the group's chapters had collected $270,000.

"It's been a tremendous response from people," agreed Rizwan Mowlana, with the nonprofit Gaithersburg-based Asia Relief organization, which is accepting donations of cash, nonperishable food, clothing and toys for the victims. "We have two people waiting in line on the phone and three lines going even now. It's difficult to cope with it."

But welcomed nonetheless.

Calls started coming in to Wat Pa Tesarangsee, a Buddhist temple in Fredericksburg, yesterday morning. The donations followed -- about 15 bags of clothes and medicine -- and $1,500.

Dahl Evartt, a member of the congregation, said the money is being wired directly to the temple's head monk in Thailand. "We're not limiting our help to just relatives and friends of members," Evartt said. "We need to help those who have no one. Those that have no coffins."

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, yesterday asked the half-million Catholics in the archdiocese to pray for the victims and to support Catholic Relief Services, which has committed more than $500,000 in aid.

"I ask that each of us remember these people in our prayers in a special way," McCarrick said in a statement.

The International Buddhist Center, a temple in Wheaton, is keeping its doors open and lights on around the clock for those who want to stop by to meditate. Bhante Uparatana, the head monk, said donations have reached about $3,000. Members have cleaned out their garages to temporarily store the dozens of bags of summer clothes, dry food, powdered milk, medicine and other donated goods.

Relief agency officials said money is the most effective type of donation to help the victims. Sending goods -- nonperishable food and clothes -- while needed, takes time. It has to be gathered and sorted and shipped, which also costs money.

"Money moves faster and can be put into the hands of the people who are with various charity organizations . . . to immediately apply it to the problem," said Harry Edwards, spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Members of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team, which has gained world renown for racing to international disaster sites and rescuing victims, were wondering last night whether they would be called on by the federal government to aid the recovery efforts in Southeast Asia.

Although its specialty is helping in the aftermath of massive structural collapses, the team is skilled in helping with area assessment, communication and assistance with water sanitation issues, said Lt. Mark Stone, a spokesman.

With staff and volunteers already embedded in Sri Lanka, the Christian Children's Fund quickly began distributing food, water and other supplies to disaster victims. Soon the charity hopes to set up child-help centers and is sending an international team that includes specialists from Virginia.

"They've lost their homes," Children's Fund spokeswoman Toni Radler said. "They've seen their parents swept away."

Staff writers Stephanie McCrummen and Robin Wright contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company