Friday, January 19, 2018
Public safety

More than $2.6 million raised as donations pour in for Orlando victims

One donor gave $25 and wrote that her heart aches; another $5, and the promise of more when he gets paid.

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in United States history, tens of thousands of people seeking an outlet for their grief donated to online funds for victims and their families

More than $2.6 million was donated to a fund started by Equality Florida on crowd-funding website GoFundMe in less than 48 hours since a lone gunman took the lives of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

That made it the largest and fastest-growing campaign in the crowd-funding website's six-year history, said GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne.

As of Monday evening, more than 60,000 individual donations had been made.

"We called for people to donate blood and we called for people to contribute to the families of the victims and to the survivors," said executive director Nadine Smith. "In both cases, people have exceeded all of our expectations."

The group initially set a fundraising goal of $100,000 but continued to raise it after donations kept flooding in. By Monday afternoon, it was setting its sights on raising $3 million.

On the same website, another online fund set up by the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida raised more than $250,000.

Smith said none of the money will go to Equality Florida, a nonprofit group founded in St. Petersburg that advocates for the LGBT community.

The fund will be overseen by the National Center for Victims of Crime, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that performed a similar role in the wake of mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Chattanooga, Tenn.

In the wake of earlier mass shootings, the center established the National Compassion Fund to provide more fairness and transparency in how donations are awarded, said Tara Ballesteros, the center's director for public affairs.

A panel of victim representatives and individuals with experience with compensating crime victims will determine individual awards, which will be based solely on the type of injury and do not include other factors such as age, income or whether the victim has insurance.

The center fundraises separately to raise money to pay its staff and cover its administrative costs.

"All of the contributions received through the fund go directly to the victims," Ballesteros said.

GoFundMe deducts a 5 percent fee from every donation and charges a 3 percent processing fee, according to its website. It is donating $100,000 to the Equality Florida fund, Whithorne said.

"Our thoughts are with the victims and all those affected by this terrible attack," he said in an email.

Executive Pride, an LGBT group for corporate executives who want to invest in civil rights campaigns and help young entrepreneurs, donated $30,000 to the Equality Florida fund. Jeffree Star, a Californian singer-songwriter and fashion designer, donated $20,000.

Most of the donations were small. Many donors added messages to share their grief and show support. Others called for stronger gun-control laws.

Smith said she has also heard from other nonprofit groups that are collecting donations. At some nightclubs, people passed around a bucket to collect cash for victims and their families, she said.

"It's easy to feel powerless at a moment like this," Smith said. "I know it matters that we're all finding the way that we can to do something that will ease the pain a little bit."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at (813) 226-3446 or [email protected] Follow @codonnell_Times.

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