When Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005, it killed 1,888 people and caused an estimated $81 billion in property damage, according to the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center — making it the most damaging hurricane in history.
About 1.2 million people were evacuated from the affected areas.
Federal employees responded by giving to charities working to rebuild the Gulf Coast and help suffering families through the Combined Federal Campaign.
Aleis Tusa, communications director for the New Orleans-area Habitat for Humanity, said that before Hurricane Katrina, the group was building about 10 homes a year, but the year after, it built nearly 90.
Now, thanks to increased donations, the charity builds about 35 homes a year and is still receiving donations through CFC to continue its work to rebuild New Orleans.
“Any dollar given to us — through the CFC or otherwise — is something that we treasure,” Tusa said. “There are so many competing needs for a person’s dollar that for them to choose us to donate it to is something we take very seriously.”
Donations made to Habitat for Humanity are used to build homes for people, who then pay back the construction costs — about $85,000 — with no interest. The payments go back into building more homes.
Tusa said CFC helps raise the visibility of charities such as hers and helps bring in donations they might not receive otherwise.
Other charities also saw a jump in donations after Katrina that helped them step up relief activities.
John White, vice president of business development at Rebuilding Together, a charity that helps rebuild damaged homes, said the weeks and months following the hurricane were chaotic, but an outpouring of donations helped the group rebuild hundreds of homes.
He said the organization rebuilt 1,000 homes in the Gulf Coast region from 2005 to 2011.
“It was a huge undertaking, and it couldn’t have been done without contributions from federal employees and the CFC,” White said.
He said CFC helped Rebuilding Together connect with federal agencies and show potential donors the work the group does.
“It helps us raise an awareness with agencies” such as the Housing and Urban Development and Defense departments, White said.
Kay Wilkins, CEO of the American Red Cross South Louisiana region, said her organization provided millions of meals to displaced residents after Katrina — serving 1 million meals in one day. And the Red Cross moved the last person out of a government-provided trailer in April, almost seven years after the hurricane hit.
Wilkins said CFC is an invaluable way to raise donations and to remind past donors what their contributions mean.
“Having these campaigns once a year gives us an opportunity to come in and talk to people and tell our story,” Wilkins said.
She said the Red Cross saw a surge in donations after Katrina that helped provide record levels of support to what she said was the largest disaster response effort in American Red Cross history.
“Donors in CFC campaigns choose to give to the Red Cross every year because they know their dollars translate into real help for families,” Wilkins said.