The National Football League and Maryland sports fans opened their hearts last night to the victims of Hurricane Andrew with thousands of dollars in donations for relief.
In dollar bills, $100 bills and checks, the football fans dropped their donations into plastic buckets held by Red Cross volunteers. In some of Memorial Stadium's sections, the buckets were passed row to row like a church collection plate.
The grant was more than matched by the outpouring of money from the stadium crowd and a combined grant announced at halftime from the Baltimore expansion committee, exhibition game promoter Centre Management and the three groups that are bidding for ownership of an NFL franchise if Baltimore wins a team.
Centre Group Vice-Chairman Jerry Sachs said the combined grant was about $70,000.
The Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, added a $100,000 "challenge grant" -- making the total donation close to $370,000, said Central Maryland Red Cross spokeswoman Linda Klein.
The money will be spent by the American Red Cross in the teams' home states, Florida and Louisiana, which were devastated by the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
Close to 90 volunteers took part in the bucket brigade, standing near stadium gates and ramps to accept coins, currency and checks dropped in by the fans.
"This has been a great community effort," said Julie Ellsworth, a local Red Cross official, as the crowd of volunteers grew in a stadium command center moments before the 8 p.m. football and fund-raising kickoff.
Meanwhile, Maryland companies and organizations joined in a growing disaster aid effort:
* The Towson-based DeWALT division of Black & Decker sent $40,000 worth of its new line of power tools -- items intended for home construction and remodeling -- to Florida and Louisiana.
* Baltimore-based USF&G; Insurance, in addition to setting up an emergency office and "catastrophe team" in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., took up a collection in Baltimore of goods needed by storm victims, particularly canned goods, manual can openers, baby wipes and diapers.
Items brought to its 100 Light St. headquarters or its Mount Washington Center at 5801 Smith Ave. by noon today will be HTC trucked to Louisiana, along with a gift load of bottled water, Sterno and batteries.
* On Ocean City's Boardwalk, employees at Alaska Stand at Ninth Street replaced counter-top tip cups with cups to collect donations for hurricane victims.
"We've had a pretty good response so far," said owner Bob Givarz. "Everybody is putting in a coin or two. We're not seeing $10 bills but we are seeing some bills." Donations will be turned over to the Red Cross.
Relief donations, with checks made out to Red Cross National Disaster Relief Fund, also can be mailed to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box Disaster Relief, Baltimore 21263.
Another collection was taken up by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which said monetary donations will be sent to local society chapters providing relief directly to storm victims. Donations should be sent to Victims of Hurricane Andrew, c/o St. Vincent de Paul Society of Baltimore, 320 Cathedral St., Baltimore 21201.
The Baltimore County Firefighters Association, meanwhile, continued its collection of non-perishable food items and personal goods at its Cockeysville headquarters, at 52 Scott Adam Road, off York Road near the Texas landfill.
About 15 tons of canned goods and other items had arrived by last evening. "We even have pet food," said Roz Laakso, a volunteer.