WASHINGTON, D.C. -- People interested in helping the Kosovar Albanian refugees can best support the relief effort by making a cash donation or organizing a fundraiser rather than collecting goods, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. federal disaster relief agency.
FEMA has extensive experience in coordinating donations to help the victims of catastrophic disasters and is using that expertise to help the Kosovo refugees. FEMA became involved in the Kosovo relief effort at the request of President Clinton, who named Director James Lee Witt to the coordinating council for the U.S. Government's humanitarian response to the refugee crisis.
"Cash donations are really the best way to help," Witt said. "The situation on the ground and in the refugee camps is constantly changing and the needs of the refugees may differ from one place to another. The relief organizations working in the Balkans can use the funds to purchase items they know are needed by the refugees." Donated items and goods require money and time to sort, warehouse and match with refugee needs; then they must be shipped and arrangements made for receipt and distribution, he added.
FEMA, working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), set up a Kosovo Relief Donations Hotline and center in Hyattsville, Md., where operators are taking calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since April 6, operators have referred more than 37,000 callers to U.S.-based relief organizations working in the Balkans. The hotline number is 1-800-U-S-A-I-D-Relief (1-800-872-4373).
When people call the donations hotline, FEMA operators tell callers how they can help, advise them that cash is the best way to assist and help them find a reliable, U.S.-based, private relief organization that is providing direct assistance to the people of Kosovo. Americans who have Internet access can go directly to the web page of InterAction, a coalition of established U.S.-based relief organizations at www.interaction.org; click on "Kosovo" for the listing of relief organizations providing help to people displaced by the conflict.
"We want to urge people who want to help to make a financial contribution," Witt said. "It's easy to begin that process by calling 1-800-U-S-A-I-D-Relief."