AS Boston recovers from the marathon bombing, citizens from across the nation are responding with an outpouring of support, including financial donations to help victims. As Boston officials consider how to manage and distribute this money, they'd be well-served to emulate the Oklahoma City Community Foundation's oversight of Murrah bombing disaster relief funds.
The foundation's handling of millions of dollars in donations has not only provided short-term benefit for victims and their families, but also ensured crucial support will continue for years to come. From April 1995 to 2012, donations to the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund totaled $14.7 million. The bombing took the lives of 168 Oklahomans. To date, more than 1,000 survivors and victim's children have received $11.2 million in assistance.
Disaster fund donations have also been used to support the Oklahoma City National Memorial and provide case-management assistance to survivors.
Good fiscal management has allowed the fund to add $10.9 million over the past 17 years through investment earnings, increasing the ability to assist victims.
Roughly half of private donations to the Oklahoma City fund were designated for education. The foundation ensured that those funds went to children who lost a parent, based on the assumption that the family lost income that would otherwise have helped send that child through college. Of 216 eligible recipients, the fund has since paid for college or vocational training for 171 students; 90 have completed their degrees and some have completed more than one degree with the fund's financial help.
The youngest eligible education beneficiaries are now 19. At some point in the not-too-distant future, it's likely that all eligible beneficiaries will have obtained their educations. Because of good management, it's also likely that money will remain unspent even after the fund has paid all college tuition, fees, room and board for every student who lost a parent in the Murrah bombing. The remaining education fund money could then go to other survivor benefits.
This is good. Some needs linger longer than others. To this day, the fund pays for counseling of many first responders who helped pull people from the Murrah Building's rubble, as well as family members of the victims. Counseling remains one of the most common requests for assistance received by the foundation. Such requests typically spike when events like the Boston attack occur.
At the same time, about a dozen bombing victims were left with significant, long-term physical and mental injuries — including individuals who were children in the Murrah building's day care center. They will need lifelong aid. At some point, much of the fund's activity will focus solely on helping those victims, and rightfully so.
Despite the grousing of a vocal, disgruntled minority, the vast, silent majority of bombing survivors are grateful for the assistance of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation and its diligence in managing disaster funds.
Having a carefully devised plan, like that developed over time in Oklahoma City, is crucial if Boston is to address the many needs of all those affected directly and indirectly by the marathon bombing. But most of all, Boston officials must realize the limits of charity.
As Steve Davis, chairman of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation notes, “No amount of benefits is going to fix the hole in your heart.”