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Philanthropic Response to Gulf Oil Disaster: Is It Enough? (Updated)

By Tom Watson on June 1, 20103 Comments

While the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues amidst growing anger at British Petroleum – and the Federal government’s inability to force a resolution to the disaster – nonprofit organizations have shifted into action for the longer term, raising money they say will help real people affected by the spill. Yet the response, at least to date, is nothing like the level of previous disasters.

Some celebrities are trying to draw attention to the human cost of the spill. Rocker Lenny Kravitz was among the stars at a New Orleans concert to raise funds for fisherman affected, along with Mos Def, John Legend and Annie DiFranco – all of whom performed on behalf of the Gulf Relief Foundation.

And the Greater New Orleans Foundation has formed the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund to serve as a conduit between the donor community and our nonprofit partners. Says the Foundation: “The spill will have its most direct effects on the Louisiana coastline and its fragile ecosystems.  It will impact the livelihoods of fishermen and their families, as well those who depend on the fishing and tourism industries.  The environmental effects will linger for many years.

Another effort, the Gulf Coast Fund, is special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and supports “progressive movement building in the Gulf Coast region.” Says the Fund: “Recognizing that this is among the worst environmental disasters to affect the US coast, GCF is already taking action to address the situation and working directly with community leaders and frontline responders. We are receiving regular updates from our partners on the ground, and have already mobilized our Community Advisory Board and provided our first emergency grants to the areas most in need.”

BP, meanwhile, is writing checks to organization who can help locally. It gave $1 million to two New Orleans causes – $750,000 to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for direct assistance such as gift cards to local grocery stores, case management and counseling, and $250,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana for emergency food boxes.

Yet some leaders say the philanthropic response nationally has been less than inspiring.

“While our local Catholic Charities’ agencies in New Orleans and Nashville are fully engaged and receiving strong local and institutional support, we are not seeing the generosity of individual Americans across-the-board,” said Rev. Larry Snyder, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.  ”Frankly, Nashville’s flood devastation has been somewhat overshadowed by the oil spill, and the entire Gulf Coast situation has been more of a business story and technology remediation story than anything that truly portrays the human impact.  The good hearts of our country have not been touched in a way to feel a need to contribute.”


Resources and newsbytes from charitable efforts in the Gulf of Mexico:

The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health has raised more than $100,00 and is making grants to grass roots environmental groups throughout the Gulf region. It’s a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans is raising funds and providing money for residents and business hurt by the oil spill, particularly workers in the fishing industry. The organization received $1 million from BP.

Hands Across the Sand is a grassroots advocacy organization that is urging a day of unity on beaches around the U.S. on June 26th.

Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, based in Baton Rouge, is giving emergency grants totaling (so far totaling more than $117,000) to regional nonprofits  helping those affected by the spill.

The Gulf Oil Spill Fund was created by the Greater New Orleans Foundation a month ago and has raised $20,000 so far, in addition to the community foundation’s contribution of $60,000.

The Audubon Society, through its local offices, is looking for volunteers to assist in the clean-up and containment along the shorelines.

The newly formed Gulf Relief Foundation held a benefit concert in New Orleans headlined by the singer Lenny Kravitz that brought in $300,000 – and is still raising money online and organizing.

Note: onPhilanthropy publisher Tom Watson appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show to discuss the philanthropic response to the Gulf disaster – you can listen here.

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  • melise ankersen says:

    I have asked Archbishop Rodi of mobile to help organize a national day of prayer to include the entire gulf coast that would see thousands gathered along the coast to ask God for an end to this ecological calamity. The government and BP seem helpless to effect an end to this,why not ask God. It’s time for people to ask the Creator.I have also asked help from Catholic Conference of Bishops to get this started.

  • obx62570 says:

    I agree. The anger and response of the general public is sadly non-exisitent! This is not true of my family. My 16-year old son took it upon himself to organize a donation drive to collect bottles of DAWN dish soap to be donated to the International Bird Rescue and Research Center – the organization already deployed on the gulf coast to help save bords and other wildlife affected by the spill. We have collected nearly 300 bottles in just 10 days!

    We are now making an effort to collect cash and food donations to be given to Second Harvest to help the families whose livelihoods have been interrupted and, possibly destroyed for the foreseeable future. Our hearts have been touched and we are tying to touch others.

  • Pienlert Wongpiromsarn says:

    With deep sympathy to people there and so sad for annimals and envinronment,more and more people will strongly paticipate to determine how the world will be.Do not leave our world on the maximize profit hands.Qaulity of life is the most important.Leave the better world for the next generation before we leave.

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