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Atheists Join Religious Groups In Giving Sandy Hook Support

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In the wake of the Newtown shooting, a coalition of atheists have come together to provide some relief. Atheists Giving Aid is raising money for funeral costs and counseling services for Sandy Hook victims.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, a number of religious charities offered their assistance. Now, a coalition called Atheists Giving Aid wants to raise $50,000 to help pay for funeral costs and counseling services for the victims. NPR's Brenda Salinas reports.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: Amanda Brown is an activist. She runs a campaign called We Are Atheism. She calls it an "it gets better" campaign for atheists. When she heard about the shooting on the news, she wanted to help in whatever way she could.

AMANDA BROWN: I found out about what happened just like everyone else. I was out with my 4-year-old daughter, and I just looked down at her - and it would just be devastating and heartbreaking. And, you know, there's Christmas presents under the tree for these children. The parents did not plan for such a young child's funeral.

SALINAS: So Brown enlisted the help of her graphic-designer husband, and her friends in the atheist community. They made a fundraising website, and promoted it on Reddit. It's called Atheists Giving Aid. So far, they have raised $18,000. Their goal is 50,000.

BROWN: We've also talked with people in charge of the fund at the bank there, in the town, for counseling services and funeral expenses, and just any kind of odd expense that any of the families are going through; as well as a scholarship fund for any of the children affected by the shooting.

SALINAS: One of their partners is American Atheists Inc. Amanda Knief is their managing director. She says this initiative fits right into their charitable mission. They have been raising money for people in need since Hurricane Katrina.

AMANDA KNIEF: We were often, as a community, accused of being uncharitable when really, there was just no way for us to show that we were already contributing. And so we started looking for a way to demonstrate that we did care, by doing it as a community. And as natural disasters or tragedies have occurred, we have pulled together as a community; to do things.

SALINAS: Knief hopes that more public charitable giving will help change the perception of atheists. Ed Buckner isn't so sure that will work. He's a former president of American Atheists.

ED BUCKNER: I think that we primarily should affect public perception through being good citizens. I think if, in fact, theists are looking; and see that atheists are giving money, and giving support, to people in need - that that's a good thing, not a bad thing. But it's probably not going to change a whole lot.

SALINAS: Regardless of perception, he hopes that community leaders will start to include the nonreligious in moments of tragedy. Brenda Salinas, NPR News.

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