Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Fundraising for tsunami victims mounts

Interfaith group spurs local community

Express Staff Writer

Raising money for tsunami victims on New Year's Eve day are Wood River High School students, including, from left, Thai student Ploychompu Bhanichkul, her host mother Linda Thomas, Katie Seville, Brad Thomas, former WRHS AFS student Mattias Zander from Sweden and Jonathon Dittmer. Not pictured, but also involved were exchange students Laura Maroldi from Italy and Valerie Luterbacher of Switzerland. Valley resident Monica Chrestenson, right, checks out the fundraising efforts. Photo by Willy Cook

As the New Year opens, relief efforts continue to mount for the victims in South Asia of the horrific and deadly tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004. In the Wood River Valley, efforts have increased to guide donations into the right hands.

Among the first were several Wood River High School AFS exchange students spent Friday, Dec. 31 raising money in Ketchum's Giacobbi Square. With help from Amy McGraw, the local AFS coordinator, and host parents more than $6,500 was raised.

"Everyone seemed very relieved to be able to help as much as they could, and we received many 'thank yous,'" said Linda Thomas, the host mother of Thai student Ploychompu Bhanichkul. She is from Chiang Mai, and none of her family was affected at all, though she was devastated for her fellow countrymen, Thomas said.

It was her Thai daughter's concern that prompted Thomas to pull together a quick fundraiser.

Thomas expressed her gratitude to those who helped get the fundraiser organized at the last minute, including the Idaho Chapter of the American Red Cross International Relief Fund, McGraw, Wood River Valley AFS Treasurer Gay Weake, Engle and Associates, Mark Nelson with Sun Valley Shades and all Giacobbi Square businesses.

On New Year's Eve, the Wicked Spud in Hailey held a Disaster Jam to raise money to send to Mercy Corps International in Portland, Ore.

Also on New Year's Eve day, the Wood River Jewish Community Advisory Board, chaired by Adam Koffler of Ketchum, met with leaders and representatives of several of the valley's religious organizations to develop a strategy for collecting donations.

"Everyone in attendance were most keen and eager to involve their religious organization to this humanitarian effort," Koffler said. "It's truly a Wood River Valley community effort. We're making it very simple for people to make donations directly to their churches for relief aid."

All the churches and religious communities were invited to participate to the group, now known as the Wood River Valley Interfaith Tsunami Relief Effort.

Attending the meeting were Rabbi Martin Levy of the WRJC, the Rev. John Moreland of the Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center, Pastor Bob Henley of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, the Rev. Brian Baker of St. Thomas Episcopal Church and several lay persons representing different organizations including George Wieman, Claudette Patton, Dina Madsen, Bunny Manus and Lyle Anderson.

"There was a great sense of agreement in the community to put our best foot forward in response to this crisis," Koffler said.

Because of the snowstorm Friday, and the holiday, many representatives weren't able to attend the meeting, which was held at the Wood River Jewish Community Center in Ketchum.

"In the midst of the snowstorm it was admirable that people showed up," Levy said.

The moneys will be pooled on Friday, Jan. 7 and donated to Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children. Other organizations may receive funds as well.

A donation of $10,000 was made to the WRJC as the seed money for community wide fundraiser. As well, each spiritual leader was asked to make a "plea for relief aids from their pulpits over the weekend and then we'll be able to send moneys to the major international aid organizations," Levy said.

"We're hoping to complete it by this Friday. People should contact their own local churches, or if not a member of a church call any religious organization in town and they'll be happy to accept the donations," Levy said. He added that 100 percent of the money will go to the relief organizations. "We want to send every dollar over there."

Henley said the purpose of the Interfaith Relief Effort is to mobilize the residents of valley to "make a difference through their generous contributions at a time of inconceivable devastation to humanity. Our goal is very simple: We want to raise money and we want to tap into the generous hearts of the people of the Wood River Valley. We're pleased to come together and serve the community as a channel to get these funds to where the need is so great right now."

He added that it was important to earmark the fully tax-deductible contributions as 'Relief" and to make them out to the specific religious organization.

The organization will publish an accounting of all funds received.

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