It started with bits of ribbon looped by Karen Jerro and Maggie Oyen in the despairing days after the World Trade Center towers fell.RED HOOK, N.Y. (AP) -- It started with bits of ribbon looped by Karen Jerro and Maggie Oyen in the despairing days after the World Trade Center towers fell.
People would donate $20 for one of their flag-colored ``solidarity ribbons.'' Or $50. Today, $750,000 has been collected for what became the September 11, 2001 Children's Fund.
The Hudson Valley-based charity is one of hundreds of not-for-profit groups that sprang to life amid the tsunami of giving that followed the terrorist attacks. Two years on, the flow of generosity has slowed and many charities have folded - but Jerro said even now ``there's not enough time in the day for the need that's out there.''
The children's fund is a modest operation based in refurbished factory space 90 miles north of New York City. Sitting at bargain-priced desks and tapping at donated computers, the two working mothers figure they each spend up to 60 hours a week helping children who lost a parent in the attack.
They focus on funding primary and secondary education - things like tuition for Catholic or Montessori schools, money for tutoring, books, uniforms and, in one case, shoes.
The fund is among the roughly 300 charities launched in response to the attacks, an instant army of not-for-profit groups that worked with established organizations to collect an estimated $2.8 billion in donations so far.
Most of the money went to larger charities like the American Red Cross's Liberty Fund, according to a study released this summer by the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York. But a lot of smaller charities worked the niches, like the firefighters' Ladder Company 25 Family Fund or West Islip Remembers for families from that Long Island suburb.
Jerro and Oyen were inspired in part by their own experience in paying to send their daughters to a Montessori school. They also wanted to make sure the money they collected from donation boxes for their ribbons was being well spent.
``People just started giving us money - $50 for a ribbon! It was ridiculous,'' Oyen said.
About $14,000 from ribbon donations became seed money for a registered not-for-profit organization that so far has helped 57 children and has commitments to help 32 more. The average award is $3,000.
Though the work has kept the women up into the wee hours answering e-mail, they see their small size as a strength. Jerro boasts that they know the story of each family they help. And they do extra things like linking up women with jobs and guiding victims to other charities.
They also can be creative in how they raise money. When a local business, Nordic House Designs, donated $100,000 worth of luggage and travel goods, the women organized a sale to raise funds.
``People want to help. They just don't know how sometimes,'' Jerro said. ``You just have to show them.''
Still, the fund is in a thinning field of 9-11 charities. The Better Business Bureau reported that 49 attacks-related organizations have closed down. Bureau president Ronna Brown said most of the shuttered operations accomplished their goal, while groups providing mental health or educational services are more likely to still be up and running.
Jerro notes that people are less likely to stuff donation slots with big bills than they were in the emotionally charged days after the attacks. But they have adapted. Two-thirds of donations come from corporate donation and grants.
They have professionalized their operation to the level that they now pay for things that used to be free, like rent and accounting services. Last November, they started paying themselves salaries. And now they are trying to raise their profile among potential recipients and donors.
The fund is sponsoring an anniversary art show Sept. 6-21 in the factory space it shares with Oyen's other business, which provides flowers for events. The ``Faces of Grief and Healing'' exhibit will feature 140 works including a two-story gate made of steel from the World Trade Center. A silent auction will help raise funds.