First aid: Local businesses raising funds for tsunami victims

When the devastating tsunami hit South Asia on Dec. 26, many of us did not immediately grasp the enormity of the disaster. However, we now know that the number of fatalities continues to soar past 150,000, while countless families are homeless and scores of children have become orphans overnight.

Fear that many more will fall victim to disease and malnutrition has prompted the largest international humanitarian response in history. Numerous volunteers from across the globe are now in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, countries most affected by the catastrophe.

A number of North Seattle businesses have also joined the effort. Some have organized fund-raisers, while others are donating part of their profits to disaster-relief organizations such as Mercy Corps or Oxfam America.

No exploitation of affected artists

Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair-trade store at 6417 Roosevelt Way N.E., donated 15 percent of its sales during the week of Jan. 9 to the Mennonite Central Committee's Asia Earthquake Fund.

For more than three years, Erin MacDonald has been the manager of the Ten Thousand Villages, one of nearly 100 stores spread across the United States and Canada. Its parent organization, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), is a relief and development agency of the North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches.

MCC's initial response to the tsunami disaster was a $75,000 pledge, but that amount was increased to $1.4 million when it became obvious that the tragedy was much larger than initially thought.

According to MacDonald, Ten Thousand Villages provides a market for artisans in more than 30 Third World countries, including the South Asian countries affected most by the tsunami. "We just make sure that [the artisans] are being paid a fair price and no one is exploited," MacDonald said.

MacDonald learned of the tragedy the Monday after the disaster. While riding the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train in Berkeley, she saw the newspaper headlines. Like many others, she didn't realize the magnitude of the devastation until later.

"As the days was very, very sad; I felt fortunate to be alive," MacDonald said.

As far as she knows, everyone doing business with Ten Thousand Villages is OK. Golden Palm, an affiliated company from Colombo, Sri Lanka, hires nearly 200 artisans age 18 to 60, rural people who bring their crafts to the main office in Colombo.

Since Colombo is an inland city, no one working with Golden Palm has been hurt, and there is no indication that their business was affected either.

However, MacDonald said that no one really knows what the long-term effects of the tsunami will be.

MacDonald said that her store's donations for the week of the sale amounted to about $500. While this amount is not very large, she made it clear that Ten Thousand Villages will continue to do business with artisans in the affected areas.

"We will continue to be directly or indirectly involved with this program, and we feel good about that," MacDonald said.

Other local benefits

Just upstairs from Ten Thousand Villages is the Royal Palm, a Thai restaurant. It recently held a $15 buffet, with all proceeds going to the tsunami victims.

Johny Bantprai, shift manager at the Royal Palm, said close to $18,000 was raised on Jan. 5, the day of the fund-raiser. The money came not only from sales, but also from citizens' donations.

Nina Swensen, the owner of Royal Palm, is currently in Phucket, Thailand, one of the areas devastated by the tsunami, with a handful of workers.

Whole Foods Market, at 1026 N.E. 64th St., is also taking part in the collective effort. Soon after the tragedy, scores of concerned customers started inquiring about donations for the tsunami victims.

Katie Dunsmoor, demonstration coordinator at Whole Foods, said she has never seen people react that way.

"People were giving us $20, $50 bills. One man even gave us a $100 bill," Dunsmoor said.

That prompted the chain store to accept donations from customers at the cash registers through $2 and $5 tsunami relief coupons. These coupons are scanned at the register and then given to the customers for tax purposes.

"At the end of the day, Whole Foods cuts a check to Mercy Corps," Dunsmoor explains.

She said the store raised more than $14,000 in one day. Overall, she said, the Northwest region of Whole Foods stores has received more than $130,000 in donations.

Since she was out of town, Dunsmoor found out about the disaster four days after it happened. "[The news] floored me," she said.

However, she's really happy with the way people responded to the tragedy. "People are really banding together," Dunsmoor said.

Whole Foods Market will continue to accept donations through January.

[[In-content Ad]]