Terrorist strikes on Sept. 11, 2001, sparked a flood of cash donations to disaster relief and charitable organizations in the Lehigh Valley that were as unprecedented as the attacks themselves.
''It was incredible,'' said Robin Lee of local radio station WZZO-FM. ''I'm talking poor people giving $100 bills.''
A year later, the generosity of Valley residents still makes an impression on the administrators of local branches of national charities such as the American Red Cross, the United Way and the Salvation Army.
An estimated $2.8 million in donations was made to Valley charities after the attacks. Most charities stopped collecting money after Dec. 31 as donations slowed to a trickle.
Valley residents contributed $2.3 million to the Red Cross' Liberty Fund to provide disaster relief to nearly 55,000 families affected by the terrorist attacks.
''Nowhere in the history of this chapter has this amount ever been given,'' said Janice Osborne of the Red Cross.
The donations came from 14,231 individual contributions, 749 corporate donations and 435 community organization donations, Osborne said. The number of individual contributions reflects only those who wrote a check to the local Red Cross, or came to the office to make a cash donation, she said. Many more made contributions that eventually were added to the Red Cross total from the Lehigh Valley, including WZZO, which raised $148,950 from individual contributions and gave it to the Red Cross.
Most local donations were turned over to the national Liberty Fund, which as of Sept. 5 was projected to distribute $643 million in direct financial assistance to victims' families. An additional $200 million is forecast to be distributed by the end of the year. More than 3,000 families of the deceased and seriously injured will receive an average of $115,000, assuming they accept all available assistance, according to the Red Cross national office.
The balance of the money, about $133 million, will be used for the Sept. 11 Recovery Program, designed to meet the long-term needs of those directly affected.
Recovery offerings include long-term mental health services, long-term health care, family support services and assistance to lower Manhattan residents with home cleanup and replacing furnishings.
The Liberty Fund has taken in more than $1 billion, according to the national office of the Red Cross.
United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley collected $234,586 and gave it to the September 11th Fund, the national United Way's program to support and rebuild the communities devastated by the attacks. The fund has funneled more than $301 million to 100,000 people. In July, administrators announced a $200 million ongoing recovery program.
''I think it was an important event for a lot of people,'' said Dan Rabaut, spokesman for the Valley's United Way. ''I think people responded that way.''
It's impossible to know exactly how much money from Valley residents went to relief, because some money was raised by small, community-based organizations.
For example, the Salisbury School District Teachers Association raised $1,000 that was donated to the New York Firefighters Disaster Relief Fund, said association President Cindy Yanolko.
The Allentown Salvation Army received $14,895 that was sent to New York for rescue and recovery efforts. The Kiwanis Club of Stroudsburg sent a $1,000 check to the Kiwanis International Fund, which helps children who lost a loved one in the attacks.
Radio stations WCTO and WLEV collected $205,000, which was given to the Red Cross.
Valley corporations responded too, with PPL Corp. raising $180,000. George Lewis, a spokesman for the Allentown company, said $55,000 of that total was from employees. Lewis said $100,000 went to the Red Cross and $80,000 to the United Way.
Agere Systems of Allentown made $252,000 in corporate donations, and employees raised an additional $76,000, which the company matched, said spokesman Jack Molets.
The Morning Call ran ads seeking cash donations and collected $182,000. The money went to Tribune Co.'s McCormick Foundation, which awarded $22.6 million to community groups and charities offering disaster relief. Tribune owns The Morning Call.