In the chaos surrounding last week's deadly Allentown explosion, Lehigh Valley residents who were hoping to aid the victims were directed by city officials to send their donations to the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley.
But if you want the money to go directly to the blast victims, especially now, you might want to consider other options.
That's because donations to the local chapter of the disaster aid organization aren't set aside for any particular calamity.
Donations earmarked for local disaster relief do go into the account the Red Cross used to help the victims of the N. 13th Street blast, said Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley spokeswoman Janice Osborne.
"Emotions are so high from people wanting to give specifically to the families, and we have been hearing that. We want to make sure donors know we do not take donations at a local level for specific families," Osborne said. "We want to be clear with that."
The Red Cross distributes most of its aid in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, she said. By the time people start pulling together donations, the Red Cross has already provided most victims with emergency shelter, clothing, food and other assistance. At this point, the organization is still providing emergency food and shelter to one family of two people.
Donations aimed at addressing victims' longer-term needs can be directed to a relief fund that has been established by KNBT Bank. It will be earmarked for blast victims and distributed by local community services agencies, said bank President Peter Gray.
The Salvation Army has also launched an effort to help victims with ongoing needs such as food and clothing as well as personal care items, said Maj. Carol Duperee. If donations exceed the needs of the families displaced by the explosion, they will be set aside to help victims of future fires.
But if donors are hoping to aid the victims of some unforeseen future local disaster, or the next Lehigh Valley family to be left homeless by a house fire, the Red Cross could still use their help, Osborne said.
That's a worthy cause, said Mike Drabenstott, who sits on the organizing committee of the May St. Luke's Half Marathon. Drabenstott, who is also part-owner of Spark advertising agency in Bethlehem, said the half marathon plans to open up 100 additional spots in the race, at an entry fee of $105, to benefit the Red Cross disaster fund.
"The way we look at it for the half marathon, the Red Cross has a disaster relief fund that with the size of this disaster was significantly tapped, and it is important that it will be there for future disasters just like it was there for this one," he said. "It is kind of like a retroactive way to benefit the people."
For Allentown restaurateur Lou Belletieri, whose roots in the neighborhood run as deep as his mother's legendary lasagna, it's important that the money he collects in donation jars at his restaurant and stand at the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market goes directly to aid the blast victims.
Belletieri said he considered sending the money to the Red Cross, but that he'll probably forward the $1,300 he has collected so far to the KNBT Bank relief fund.
Belletieri grew up in the neighborhood that was devastated by last week's gas explosion. His family's business thrived for years at 12th and Chew streets. His kids still live downtown.
"Probably the biggest reason is, they are our neighbors," Belletieri said. "A lot of those people were customers here. One guy in the row worked for us years ago."
Belletieri said he was under the impression that donations to the Red Cross could be directed to the victims of the gas explosion after placing a call to the organization's local office.
Osborne said that's not Red Cross policy, but it's possible that in the frenzy after the disaster there could have been some miscommunication between someone answering the phone and a potential donor.
Allentown city spokesman Mike Moore wasn't in last week, but he said the city's priority in directing the large number of those wanting to help to the Red Cross was making sure their money went somewhere reputable.
The Red Cross of the Lehigh Valley provided more than $90,000 in emergency short-term lodging, food and clothing assistance in the fiscal year that ended in June. It has budgeted more than $140,000 for this year, and helped 30 people following the N. 13th Street explosion.
With an average cost of helping an adult with shelter and emergency food, clothing and shoes at about $400, that takes a sizable chunk out of the disaster aid budget.
Gray said KNBT set up a fund specifically to aid victims of the N. 13th Street explosion because it does business in the area and considers the victims its neighbors. The bank also wanted to give Lehigh Valley residents a convenient and safe place to send donations to aid the victims, he said.
HOW TO HELP
•Salvation Army of the Lehigh Valley: Providing ongoing assistance with food, clothing, shelter and spiritual support to blast victims. Accepting monetary donations designated for "Fire Victim Relief;" nonperishable food items; grocery store gift cards; and Walmart gift cards. The Salvation Army office is at 144 N. Eight St., Allentown: 610-432-0129. Used clothing donations can be taken to the Salvation Army Family Thrift Store at 1195 Mickley Road, Whitehall Township, where blast victims will be allowed to shop for free.
• KNBT Bank victims fund: Accepting financial donations. Money will be distributed to aid in blast relief efforts by community service organizations. Stop by any KNBT or National Penn bank branch. Checks should be made out to "Allentown Explosion Relief Fund." Locations can be found here: http://www.knbt.com
• American Red Cross of the Lehigh Valley: To replenish the local disaster relief fund that provided emergency food, shelter, clothing, shoes and other necessities to 30 displaced people in the hours after the blast call 610-865-4400 or see http://www.redcrosslv.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun