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Harvey charities raise $350M

Profile image for Nomaan Merchant
Nomaan Merchant, Associated Press

HOUSTON -- More than 50 local and national charities have raised more than $350 million in the nearly three weeks since Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast, and the disparate groups are trying to decide on priorities while some storm victims still await help.

Distrust of large charities such as the American Red Cross has driven many donors to smaller, local organizations. For instance, Houston Texans football star J.J. Watt has raised more than $30 million for his foundation, an effort he started by posting appeals on social media.

One donor to Watt's effort, Helen Vasquez, stood outside the Texans' stadium and said she had seen a Facebook post listing the salaries of executives at top national charities. She gave Watt $20 instead.

"It's all going to the people itself and not to the corporations, not the higher-ups in the corporations," Vasquez said.

But most of the money raised for Harvey has gone to the Red Cross, which has raised a least $211 million. The rest went to other organizations, including 40 groups listed by Charity Navigator, as well as dozens of other groups and individual families raising money on do-it-yourself sites such as GoFundMe.

More than $50 million has poured into the local fund set up by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county's chief administrative official.

Turner and Emmett openly urge donors to give to the local fund and not the Red Cross, saying doing so will ensure the best use of the money.

Emmett has blamed the Red Cross for problems that arose with setting up and running the emergency shelters used by tens of thousands of people who were flooded out of their homes.

The Greater Houston Community Foundation, which the men have asked to administer the fund, is creating a 12-member board and a grant committee to set priorities and distribute donations starting in the next several weeks. The foundation is working with the United Way and dozens of other charities, but so far not with the Red Cross or with Watt, who did not respond to questions sent through a spokesman for the Texans.

David Brady, CEO of the Red Cross of the Texas Gulf Coast, said his group would be "happy to be a part of all conversations" and that the Red Cross would review how it could improve its shelter operations in the future.

"We can't take the criticisms personally," he said.

The foundation's CEO, Stephen Maislin, said it will pay the costs of running the Harvey relief fund on its own.