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Crowdfunding raises $7.5 million to support Louisiana flood victims

Amidst cries that the historic flooding in Louisiana isn’t getting the attention it deserves, some residents and concerned citizens have turned to crowdfunding to start rebuilding their communities.

Jennifer Huber, a former animal rescue worker and current senior administrator at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, set up a GoFundMe campaign to support the Denham Springs Animal Shelter. The shelter, which normally houses about 200 animals, was left completely submerged by the flood waters.

“They saved as many as they could,” Huber said. “People were swimming through flood water to get to the dogs on the roof to grab them and swim to this little piece of land that happened to be high. The neighbors even swam over to help.”

When the flood waters receded, only one cinder block building remained, and it would require a massive overhaul to be usable again. The dog runs were destroyed, with grassy areas turned to mud and fencing completely swept away.

Rebuilding is going to be a major undertaking, one that will be made easier by the GoFundMe campaign which raised $138,686 in 10 days, surpassing the $100,000 goal. That’s not counting the $100,000 of matching funds promised by the Petco Foundation, an animal welfare organization.

“I saw that they were in trouble and that they needed help,” Huber said. “And so my focus became what else can I do? I can hook people up with others, with resources.”

Even though Huber had never been to Denham or met the workers there, she said she understood what they were going through. She was the assistant director of the Jefferson Parish Shelter System during the evacuation for hurricane Gustav in 2008.

“You feel so powerless in that moment.” Huber said. “But this is me saying I've been through this, I know a lot of people. What can I do instead of sitting here crying in my kitchen?”

Huber is one of 5,600 people who have started GoFundMe campaigns for the victims of the Louisiana flooding. GoFundMe is a crowdfunding site that allows individuals to set up fundraising campaigns and accept online donations. As of Wednesday evening, GoFundMe contributors had raised more than $7.5 million for families, organizations, and animals in Louisiana.

“The GoFundMe community has now raised more money on the platform for the Louisiana floods than for any previous natural disaster,” said Bartlett Jackson, a spokesperson for GoFundMe. “For a comparison, $7.4 million was raised on GoFundMe in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes. Campaign organizers raised $2.5 million for victims of the 2015 California wildfires, and over $1.1 million for survivors of the storms in the Carolinas this past year.”

Those numbers are small compared to funds raised by major emergency response organizations such as the American Red Cross (ARC). After the Nepal earthquakes the ARC had raised $39.9 million, according to an update released in November 2015.

The ARC has not yet released fundraising figures for the Louisiana flooding, but their flood relief donation page states that the response is anticipated to cost at least $30 million.

Still, comparatively small numbers can make a huge difference if the money is accessible and quickly available.

“Funds are being put directly into a shelter account and the shelter administration will be able to withdraw those funds as needed,” Huber said.

GoFundMe uses fraud prevention tools and identify verification to make its campaigns as secure as possible.

“We have a community of 25 million users,” Jackson said. “When they see something they think might not be right, they tell us, and our team looks into it.

“The benefit of donating on GoFundMe during a time of widespread emergency is that you can see exactly where your funds are going. Families can get help quickly and directly, and donors can follow along with their progress and recovery,” Jackson said.