Texting allows multitude of donors for victims of Haiti earthquake

By Petula Dvorak
Friday, January 15, 2010

At the Haitian embassy Wednesday night, people were crammed into the gorgeous lobby, hugging and crying and talking, so many that the crowd swirled halfway up the grand, sweeping staircase.

It started as a candlelight vigil, society's autopilot ritual when people in mourning just don't know what else to do but gather with others to try to divide the sorrow.

But this one had an energy and an urgency I hadn't seen before. The long, white things repeatedly being handed to everyone weren't candles.

They were strips of paper with a message: "HAITI needs your help. Text 'HAITI' to '90999' to donate $10 to the Red Cross. Text 'Yele' to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti," the earthquake relief fund run by hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean.

An instant cure for that nagging feeling of helplessness we often get when we see something horrible unfold before us.

"Please give to Haiti. Do you have the number? Just send a text -- that's all you have to do," said the tall, handsome young man who handed me my first paper.

And a half-dozen more little papers were pressed into my hand that evening with the same plea to text.

We text about dinner, about movie plans, about homework. We text while driving, we text in class and we even text about the nasty person sitting right next to us.

But this week, people learned to text to aid an entire country.

Less than 48 hours after the deadly 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, the American Red Cross had received $5 million in donations through mobile texting, all at $10 a click.

"This has been simply an amazing experience for us," said Roger Lowe, senior vice president for communications at the American Red Cross in Washington.

This is remarkable not just because of the technology, but because it changes the landscape of America's philanthropy.

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