Donations Pour In To Help Marathon Bombing Victims

Immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing, local officials set up the One Fund Boston to collect and distribute donations to help the victims. The fund was set up by Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick to help coordinate aid, and to avoid some of the acrimony over donations that has followed past tragedies.

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Donations have been pouring into funds set up to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. One in particular, the One Fund Boston, has received $20 million. This fund was set up by Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick to help coordinate aid, and to avoid some of the acrimony over donations that has followed similar tragedies in the past.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: One Fund Boston was up and running within a day of the bombings. Several Boston businesses got things started with million-dollar pledges, and the money has been rolling in ever since from thousands of people eager to help. Mayor Menino said at a news conference yesterday that he wants the victims to get money as soon as possible.

MAYOR THOMAS MENINO: This is so important, that we keep those affected by this tragedy our number one priority.

FESSLER: To help do that, he's named attorney Kenneth Feinberg to administer the fund. Feinberg oversaw similar efforts after the 9/11 attacks, the BP oil spill, and the shootings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colorado. In every case, he says the biggest challenge is figuring out who should get how much. He plans to hold two town hall meetings next month in Boston, to hear from victims and members of the public.

KENNETH FEINBERG: How should we distribute the money? It's not a lot of money. when you look at the nature of the injuries, the number of injuries, how you're going to divide this money. It is a wonderful outpouring but it will not make people whole. It can't do that.

FESSLER: He says he assumes money will go to those most seriously injured and to the families of the three people killed in the attack. But there are questions about how serious an injury needs to be. And what do you do about mental trauma experienced by witnesses and first responders?

Feinberg says whatever is decided will be decided soon. Checks will be out the door by the end of June.

FEINBERG: All of these funds must be distributed quickly to eligible claimants with a minimum of fuss or red tape.

FESSLER: Such speed is highly unusual when it comes to such funds. Fifteen million dollars donated after the Newtown, Connecticut shootings remain largely unspent, amid disagreement over where the money should go and who gets to decide. Families of those killed and injured in the Aurora movie theater shootings complained that money they thought was intended for them went to non-profit groups instead.

CAREN TEVES: When I heard about the One Fund in Boston, I was literally jumping up and down, saying thank goodness, they got it right.

FESSLER: Caren Teves's 24-year-old son Alex was killed in Aurora. She hopes the victims of the Boston bombings don't have to go through what she and others encountered at the most difficult time of their lives.

TEVES: We had to, in our grief, get up and fight for these funds to be distributed to the family members of those deceased and those that were critically injured.

FESSLER: She says one problem is that people keep reinventing the wheel after every disaster. So she and more than 60 other family members and survivors of Aurora, Virginia Tech and other tragedies have proposed the creation of a National Compassion Fund. It would be set up right after an incident and all donations would go directly to victims.

But Bob Ottenhoff, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy in Washington, has a word of caution. He says it can take months to recognize the full impact of a tragedy and what's the best way to help. Donations might be better spent on something else, like improved mental health services.

BOB OTTENHOFF: What happens when there's a crisis or a disaster like this, is donors want to do something and they want to do it right away. But that giving isn't always well coordinated or well spent.

FESSLER: Ottenhoff says the most important thing is for donors to make their intentions clear, and for funds to be transparent about how the money is spent. Feinberg says that's exactly what he plans to do with One Fund Boston.

Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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