Tracking the fire money: A complicated web of donations | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tracking the fire money: A complicated web of donations

William Ferchland

Ken Bonham is scratching his head.

He wonders where the money from the countless donations intended for Angora fire victims is headed.

“Where is it? I have no idea where it is,” he said.

“Who gets it? What’s the priority of who gets it and how does it trickle down?” he continued.

One month after the fire roared through the Upper Truckee neighborhood, devouring 254 structures and charring 3,100 acres, some of those impacted by the blaze remain perplexed over how the avalanche of monetary donations will help them.

According to Mark Lucksinger, such help is on the way. Lucksinger is the president of the Lake Tahoe Angora Fire Fund, the primary resource for financial relief for Angora fire victims.

The fund, which recently garnered 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, absorbed the Locals for Locals account, which was established days after the fire erupted on June 24.

Heavenly Mountain Resort, Embassy Suites and others have pledged large sums to the fund. Betty “B” Gorman, who sits on the board, said $102,000 is available. Pledges that would bump the account from $250,000 to $300,000 have been promised but not received.

Money from the American Century Championship and former NBA star Charles Barkley has not been confirmed, a board member said.

Gorman said she hadn’t received any complaints from people who donated and wonder where their money is going. She said checks from corporations take awhile to go through the system.

She also expects several fundraisers in the near future as victims’ needs will continue in the upcoming seasons.

“I think we will continue to see this fund grow,” Gorman said.

A certified public accountant, David Olivo, sits on the fund’s board of directors, but so far the accounting action has been minimal.

“Money is starting to flow in,” Lucksinger said. “There’s been nothing to audit.”

In comparison, the Support South Tahoe Athletic Teams raised roughly $200,000 to save sports from the chopping block at South Tahoe High School and South Tahoe Middle School during the 2004-05 school year.

Hans Uthe, assistant district attorney for El Dorado County, said his office has not been contacted by people wondering about their donations. Yet he advised people to be wary of solicitors who use the phone to lure donations for Angora fire victims.

Approximately $383,240 out of a cost of $395,000 was collected by the Sacramento Sierra Chapter of the American Red Cross to help 205 families affected by the fire, according to spokeswoman Courtney Miller, who commented last week.

The Red Cross, however, discourages any more donations to them that would help Angora fire victims fire since it expects money pledges from other funds to cover the cost of helping those in need, Miller said.

The Red Cross money was used for “basic immediate needs” soon after the fire in the form of cash cards, Miller said. The amount of each card was determined by a case worker who spoke with those requesting the money and assessing their needs.

Miller said help is still available to those who did not get assistance from Red Cross.

“If people feel they weren’t helped by the Red Cross, we would like to work with you,” she said, adding Red Cross volunteers will be “in that community a long time.”

El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago said she would like to see a board consisting of one representative of each organization raising money for Angora fire victims. Calls from fire victims asking about the money have been trickling into Santiago’s office.

“I’d like to see a coordinated effort. … My biggest concern is someone falling through the cracks,” Santiago said.

Francine Ragona has that falling-through-the-cracks feeling. Even though she only had two shirts and a pair of pants when she fled the fire, Ragona said she was refused financial assistance because she was told she has good insurance for her Mule Deer Circle home that burned to the ground.

“Everybody says I’m OK. Why am I OK? I’m not OK,” Ragona said.

Information on the Lake Tahoe Angora Fire Fund

Board of directors

— Social Services Representatives

Wendy David, Court Appointed Special Advocates

Alissa Nourse, Tahoe Youth & Family

— Service Club Representative

Mark Lucksinger, South Lake Tahoe Rotary

— El Dorado County Representative

Patty Moley, El Dorado Human Services

— South Lake Tahoe Representative

Catherine DiCamillo, city attorney

— Accountant

David Olivo, certified public accountant

— Faith Based Representative

Rex McQuillen, Sierra County Church

— Chamber of Commerce Representative

Betty “B” Gorman, Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce

— Small/Medium Business Representative

Buzz Bera, Meeks Lumber and Hardware

— Large Business Representative

John Packer, Harrah’s and Harveys

— Education Representative

Guy Lease, Lake Tahoe Community College

Mission Statement for Lake Tahoe Angora Fire Fund

“Our mission is to restore, rebuild, re-establish and improve the lives and neighborhoods impacted by the Angora fire by maximizing and distributing resources to the individuals and community affected by the worst natural disaster to strike the South Lake Tahoe communities in recent times.”

Distribution of Funds:

“Funding will be available to local residents to assist with unmet needs in a fair and equitable manner in order to facilitate their settling into safe homes, returning to work, school and normal activities therefore restoring a healthy quality of life in our community. Based upon resources additional funds will be utilized to facilitate the community becoming whole again.”

Those affected by the Angora fire who need long-term financial assistance are asked to visit http://www.helptahoe.com, download and complete and application and drop it off at the California Visitor’s Center, across the street from the Tahoe Daily Tribune. For information on how to donate, visit http://www.helptahoe.com or go to any U.S. Bank.

Source: Lake Tahoe Angora Fire Fund


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