When Hurricane Katrina hit, Mississippi-based Hope Haven found its entire complex submerged in 6 feet of water, leaving its buildings either water damaged or destroyed. Director Terry Latham says that while the organization, a 10-year-old shelter for abused and neglected children located about a mile-and-a-half from the Gulf of Mexico, had the money to fix the buildings, it also had 12 to 15 children to care for and no furniture.
“We were sitting there saying we have nowhere to turn to for help,” Latham says. “Then we got a call from America Responds With Love on my cell phone.”
The voice on the other end was that of Richard McDonough, founder of America Responds With Love Inc., a nonprofit organization that’s been in existence since 1989, providing emergency housing to people in need through the Hotels/Motels In Partnership Program. McDonough told Latham his organization wanted to help Hope Haven and the other four shelters destroyed during the hurricane get the furniture and other supplies they needed. They would do it through RespondWithLove.org, a philanthropic Web site launched in early 2005. At the time, McDonough, frustrated by what he saw as systematic problems keeping people from getting the resources they needed after catastrophic events such as the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, decided to create a way by which overlooked, often local, organizations that “don’t fit in a nice cubbyhole” can get the goods they need to carry out their missions.
“We made the decision we were no longer going to wait. We would create the system — which is what the Web site is — where the agencies in the field who need the resources are able to get the resources they need,” McDonough says. “Not just what people think they need but what they truly need.
“And at the same time, [we] give the donors the ability to know what they give is truly needed, can be used either immediately or can be kept for the future. In other words, instead of being reactive each time, we can be proactive.”
Organizations can apply to be a part of the program and usually are selected on the basis that they serve people when there are no other community resources available or appropriate to help them. Organizations in need of things such as furniture, clothing and other supplies pay an annual program service fee to have their needs added to the RespondWithLove.org Web site. Visitors to the site choose from drop-down menus the type of organization they’d like to help by mission (e.g., domestic violence), the region of the charity they’d like to help, and the specific gift or gifts toward which they want their donations to go. Donors can choose to donate the program service fee for an organization. McDonough says about 90 percent of donated funds go to program expenses, the bulk of which include purchasing goods for participating organizations.
Donors can give by check, money order or credit card and can donate anonymously; donations also can be tracked. America Responds With Love doesn’t contact donors via e-mail or direct mail unless they request communication. While donor information isn’t given to the organizations that receive gifts, donors are sent thank-you notes detailing non-
confidential information on who benefited from each gift.
RespondWithLove.org’s involvement with Hope Haven resulted in more than 1,500 pieces of new furniture divided among affected shelters.
For more information, visit www.respondwithlove.org.