Oso fundraising coming to an end with millions raised

OSO — Five months after a mudslide wiped out a neighborhood and cut the nearby town of Darrington off from the rest of the county, the massive fundraising effort that fueled much of the recovery effort to date is winding up.

The three largest relief organizations involved together have raised more than $9.1 million in response to the March 22 slide, which killed 43 people and destroyed or damaged 48 homes.

United Way of Snohomish County and the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation together have raised more than $4.5 million since the slide and have been closely coordinating how that money is being distributed.

While the two agencies have distributed about $3 million, nearly all of it has been earmarked for a specific purpose and will be distributed over the next two years.

The American Red Cross, meanwhile, also has raised $4.5 million since the slide and has distributed or otherwise earmarked $2 million of that, with the balance being kept in reserve.

The three agencies have different organizational structures and functions: United Way and the hospital foundation are locally based, while the Red Cross is a national organization with significant overhead to manage rapid response to disasters.

But all three have shifted their strategies to respond to the evolving needs of the communities affected by the mudslide, focusing more on long-term needs now.

On the ground, North Counties Family Services in Darrington and the Arlington Family Resource Project have received much of the financial support that gets passed directly to the people affected by the slide.

“What we will do is work with the family support centers to distribute those dollars over the next two years as the need arises,” said Dennis Smith, CEO of United Way of Snohomish County.

For example, the United Way set aside money to finance — through the Salvation Army — the hiring of a case manager to work at the two service centers for the next two years. That money comes from donations by corporate or institutional donors.

Even more money has been received from individual donors — about 73 percent of the total. That pool of money has been distributed to the family service centers or to other community organizations, such as the Oso Fireman’s Fund that provide direct aid to individuals and families.

Going forward, it’s hoped that at least 70 percent of the money raised will go toward such direct assistance, Smith said.

A similar system is in place at the Red Cross, said regional executive director Chuck Morrison, although the exact breakdown wasn’t immediately available.

“A certain percent is anticipated for individual needs, but everything else will be driven by what the community tells us,” Morrison said.

That guidance comes from case managers working in communities to assess individual needs, and it informs what is called the Unmet Needs Group — leaders from various charities and organizations who meet weekly to make decisions on funding.

Those case managers have been the key to making sure money is making it into the hands of those who need it, said Wyonne Perrault, the executive director of North Counties Family Services.

Some families, Perrault said, have identified needs that will require money over a longer term.

“We know that winter’s around the corner and we know some folks are not yet into the housing they want to be in,” she said.

Others might need help with ongoing medical concerns, she said.

“This is a marathon, not a race,” she said.

While donations to the larger organizations has slowed, United Way and the hospital foundation still have about $1.75 million in reserve, earmarked for the needs of individuals and families over the next couple of years.

So far, United Way and the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation have provided about $860,000 to the two family service centers. About 83 percent of that money has been passed on to families who lost someone or their primary home in the slide. The remaining 17 percent has helped those who were economically inconvenienced, but not devastated, by the slide. For example, some needed gas cards for help in covering the cost of a suddenly longer commute.

The amount provided by the Red Cross was not immediately available.

“We will assess each case going forward as needs are identified. We’re going to be there when they need that assistance,” Morrison said.

Chris Winters: 425- 374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_at_Herald.

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