Philanthropic Response to Gulf Oil Disaster: Is It Enough?

Philanthropic Response to Gulf Oil Disaster: Is It Enough?
June 1, 2010
By Tom Watson
on philanthropy

While the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues amidst growing anger at British Petroleum – and the Federal government’s inability to force a resolution to the disaster – nonprofit organizations have shifted into action for the longer term, raising money they say will help real people affected by the spill. Yet the response, at least to date, is nothing like the level of previous disasters.

Some celebrities are trying to draw attention to the human cost of the spill. Rocker Lenny Kravitz was among the stars at a New Orleans concert to raise funds for fisherman affected, along with Mos Def, John Legend and Annie DiFranco – all of whom performed on behalf of the Gulf Relief Foundation.

And the Greater New Orleans Foundation has formed the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund to serve as a conduit between the donor community and our nonprofit partners. Says the Foundation: “The spill will have its most direct effects on the Louisiana coastline and its fragile ecosystems. It will impact the livelihoods of fishermen and their families, as well those who depend on the fishing and tourism industries. The environmental effects will linger for many years.

Another effort, the Gulf Coast Fund, is special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and supports “progressive movement building in the Gulf Coast region.” Says the Fund: “Recognizing that this is among the worst environmental disasters to affect the US coast, GCF is already taking action to address the situation and working directly with community leaders and frontline responders. We are receiving regular updates from our partners on the ground, and have already mobilized our Community Advisory Board and provided our first emergency grants to the areas most in need.”

BP, meanwhile, is writing checks to organization who can help locally. It gave $1 million to two New Orleans causes – $750,000 to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for direct assistance such as gift cards to local grocery stores, case management and counseling, and $250,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana for emergency food boxes.

Yet some leaders say the philanthropic response nationally has been less than inspiring.

“While our local Catholic Charities’ agencies in New Orleans and Nashville are fully engaged and receiving strong local and institutional support, we are not seeing the generosity of individual Americans across-the-board,” said Rev. Larry Snyder, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. ”Frankly, Nashville’s flood devastation has been somewhat overshadowed by the oil spill, and the entire Gulf Coast situation has been more of a business story and technology remediation story than anything that truly portrays the human impact. The good hearts of our country have not been touched in a way to feel a need to contribute.”
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