WASHINGTON -- In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, some who lost their homes or businesses have turned to crowd-funding websites to elicit a faster and more direct response than they could expect from the government or traditional charities.

While Congress considers a $60 billion disaster aid package for the storm victims, hundreds of them have gotten quicker results by creating personalized fundraising campaigns on sites including GoFundMe, IndieGoGo and HelpersUnite. These individual efforts have totaled a few million dollars – enough to show the funding model can work. GoFundMe leads the way with $1.3 million raised by about 320 individual campaigns from more than 14,000 donors.

Crowd-funded campaigns have also been started in recent days to benefit families affected by the school shooting that killed 26 in Connecticut, though those efforts are on a smaller scale than those that benefit the thousands hit by Sandy.

"There's always going to be some sort of gap between when a storm or natural disaster or accident or tragedy happens and when larger organizations can step in and help, whether that's an insurance company or FEMA or what have you," said Brad Damphousse, CEO of San Diego-based GoFundMe. "Our users get their money as it comes in, and donors know exactly where the money is going."

By comparison, the Red Cross has more than $200 million in donations and pledges for Sandy – which includes donations through crowdsourcing website CrowdRise – and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said this month is has distributed about $2 billion in aid to 11 states struck by Sandy. Successful applicants can receive up to $31,900 from FEMA for home repairs, though lawmakers have said it's often not enough to rebuild.

Using GoFundMe, Doreen Moran set out to raise about $5,000 for her friend Kathy Levine of Long Beach, N.Y. Moran said she had been sick but wanted to do something to help after Sandy's destruction. So she set up a page on GoFundMe, linked her Facebook page and started spreading the word. She had a birthday coming up but asked for gifts for her friend, instead of for herself.

"Donate what you can," she wrote. "I will make certain it all gets to her fast. Because she needs it fast."

Moran has raised more than $15,000 in a month and has been posting pictures of repair work that has begun.

The crowd-funding site HelpersUnite considers its personal fundraising campaigns as secondary to the Red Cross or FEMA relief efforts. A percentage of each donation can be directed to a charity of the donor's choice, such as the Red Cross. The site's chairman, Steve Temes, said its model of fundraising can help victims cover costs that aren't paid by insurance or government aid. The site didn't immediately provide a total for its Sandy-related campaigns.

IndieGoGo's site says $965,443 has been raised through 161 Sandy campaigns.

Sandy represents a breakthrough for the charitable model since it's the first major disaster since the sites were set up and is expected to be the biggest domestic relief effort since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The charitable sites are modeled after Kickstarter, the top crowd-funding site in traffic and volume, though Kickstarter is devoted to films, music and other creative projects. The pioneering site launched in 2009 can't be used to raise money for individuals to spend on themselves.

Still, those who monitor charities advise would-be donors to exercise extreme caution when choosing whether to donate to an individual's page. The Department of Justice also has issued cautionary notes about the tendency for abuse after a disaster. Charity watchdog Charity Navigator said crowd-funding sites are ripe for abuse.

"We think that it's a crapshoot," said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator. "If you know the person personally and you can eyeball the effort, that really is the only way that I think you mitigate your tremendous risk."

Otherwise, the group recommends giving to a charity with a demonstrable track record, Berger said.

The rise in crowd-funding may be a response to notions that some charities are inefficient, but for every bad charity, there are many good ones, Berger said.

Damphousse said GoFundMe has several safeguards to ensure campaigns related to Sandy are legitimate. His team is constantly monitoring accounts, looking for signs of fraud or abuse. Users must link their campaigns to their accounts on Facebook – which itself works constantly to verify users' identities. And they must raise at least $100 in online payments from friends or family before being listed on the public search directory.

"Of course we're well aware that people can try to take advantage of a natural disaster like this, so we really stepped up our game, trying to be that extra layer of protection between those collecting money and donors," he said.

Donors make online payments through WePay in the United States or through PayPal internationally. The funds are delivered directly into a payment account for those seeking help. Then they link their bank accounts to the payment sites to withdraw the funds. The funds can arrive within three to five days, or checks can be cut within a week. Damphousse said the payment sites are skilled at detecting risky transactions.

GoFundMe charges a 5 percent fee from each transaction for the service.

Successful campaigns typically start with friends and family, spread through acquaintances and draw only sparingly from complete strangers, he said.

"The friends and family are the ones who are going to support you no matter what," he said. "If you've got friends or family who are across the country and are out of power, of course it's easier for you to support them online with a credit or debit card, rather than mailing a check or sending a card."

Initial donations give a campaign credibility, or "social proof," he said. Then friends and family can ask their friends for support as well through Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.

Some who lack power or Internet access have had friends set up their campaigns.

For Phyllis Puglia of Staten Island, N.Y., who lost her home and belongings, crowd funding has meant about $52,000 in support after her cousin, Josetta Maurer launched a campaign. Maurer created a page to tell Puglia's story online. It was later featured on NBC's "Rock Center." Her initial fundraising goal was just $15,000.

The Good Fork restaurant in New York City's Red Hook neighborhood has raised more than $53,000 through GoFundMe after telling how water filled the restaurant's basement and continued up to the dining room.

Donors often leave comments of support on the fundraising sites.

"We're seeing individuals taking care of one another before some of these bigger organizations can get involved," Damphousse said. "The process of giving is just so much more intimate and impactful sometimes than just throwing money into a larger organization and being unaware of where that money might be used."



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  • Michael Bloomberg

    New York Mayor Bloomberg took all the major precautions to keep New Yorkers safe. He ordered 3,750,000 people to vacate the low-lying areas across the five boroughs and ordered a complete shutdown of the mass transit system well before the storm even hit. According to the New York Times, he even calmly dealt with a huge <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/30/nyregion/crane-accident-at-one57-in-midtown.html?_r=0">crane poised to collapse </a>over a luxury skyscraper.

  • Power Workers

    While most people were advised to evacuate from Sandy's path of destruction, <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2012/10/30/hurricane-sandy-heroes-from-coast-guard-rescuers-to-red-cross-volunteers-photos.html?huff_e_query=%28red+cross+volunteers%29+%7C+%28shipwrecked+sailors%29+%7C+%28mayor+bloomberg%29+%7C+%28u+s+news%29&huff_e_sorting=recency#a4efc0e0-35ad-42d8-9b29-8aca40743719">power workers knowingly went into the thick of things</a>. According to the Daily Beast, more than 500 power workers came up from Alabama to assist in recovery efforts, and at least 150 came from the West Coast to help restore power in New York.

  • Cory Booker

    Newark Mayor Booker deployed a team in Newark to ensure that the homeless were able to find shelter at an emergency base on Sussex Avenue.

  • Cory Booker

    Newark Mayor Booker deployed a team in Newark to ensure that the homeless were able to find shelter at an emergency base on Sussex Avenue.

  • U.S. Coast Guard

    The crew of the HMS Bounty was forced to abandon ship as Hurricane Sandy slowly claimed the vessel. According to the Huffington Post, "by the time the first rescue helicopter arrived, all that was visible of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/hms-bounty-pirates-of-the-caribbean-hurricane-sandy_n_2037079.html">the replica 18th-century sailing vessel</a> was a strobe light atop the ship's submerged masts." The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members by helicopter Monday.

  • Martin O'Malley

    Maryand Gov. O'Malley was determined not to let his state lose power. He preemptively told his state's utility providers to get help before the storm hits so they can be prepared. More than 3,000 emergency workers from other states have flooded in to help Pepco, the power company which serves both D.C. and Maryland. According to First Coast News, O'Malley also <a href="http://www.firstcoastnews.com/weather/article/279825/29/Maryland-Gov-Declares-State-Of-Emergency-before-Hurricane-Sandy">declared a state of emergency</a> even before the storm hit allowing the state the ability to activate the Maryland National Guard and provide assistance to local emergency centers.

  • Indiana Red Cross Volunteers

    As the East coast scrambled to prepare and respond to the destruction from Sandy, a crew of Indiana residents began a pilgrimage eastward to help. According to the Daily Beast, <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2012/10/30/hurricane-sandy-heroes-from-coast-guard-rescuers-to-red-cross-volunteers-photos.html?huff_e_query=%28red+cross+volunteers%29+%7C+%28shipwrecked+sailors%29+%7C+%28mayor+bloomberg%29+%7C+%28u+s+news%29&huff_e_sorting=recency#142b35af-f98a-41af-9044-bc1a7753ef6c">American Red Cross volunteers based in Indiana</a> journeyed late last week to Harrisburg, Penn., where they began staging rescue efforts for the storm that was to come in the next few days.

  • This New Jersey Resident

    After getting hit by a rogue wave on Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, this poor <a href="http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/strange/deer-caught-in-hurricane-sandy-surf-nd12">deer got swept out to sea</a> in the turbulent currents caused by Hurricane Sandy. A man who was also on the beach at the time of the wave was able to rescue the deer from the water, reported KXAN. It's suffering a broken leg, but is expected to recover in the custody of animal control.

  • Rich Eighme

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  • The Staff at New York University's Langone Medical Center

    According to the Atlantic Wire, when the power failed at New York University's Langone Medical Center, "approximately 1,000 hospital staffers (doctors, nurses, residents, and medical students), along with firefighters and police officers,<a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/10/heroes-hurricane/58498/?huff_e_query=%28hurricane+national%29+%7C+%28heroes%29+%7C+%28new+york+city%29+%7C+%28faith%29&huff_e_sorting=recency"> carried 260 patients</a> down 15 flights of stairs, in the dark, with flashlights, to ambulances that transported them to other area hospitals."

  • Vern Gillmore

    According to the Huffington Post, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/hurricane-sandy-vern-gillmore-utah_n_2038607.html?ir=Impact">the 70-year-old Utah man</a> has been volunteering with his American Red Cross chapter for three years and was deployed Monday to help a small portion of some 50 million people who could be affected by the storm.

  • Breezy Point Firefighters

    According to the Huffington Post, a huge fire destroyed 80 to 100 houses in a flooded beachfront neighborhood in New York on Tuesday. More than <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/breezy-point-fire_n_2043071.html">190 firefighters were able to contain the blaze</a> but were still putting out pockets of fire more than nine hours after it began. According to HuffPost, "Firefighters said that the water was chest high on the street, and they had to use a boat to make rescues. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit, and the two-story home next door was ablaze and setting fire to the apartment's roof. Firefighters climbed an awning to get to the trapped people and took them downstairs to a boat in the street."

  • Heroic New Jersey Dump Truck Driver

    According to NewJersey.com, thousands of Little Ferry and Moonachie residents were rescued from flooded homes this morning. While most residents were rescued by the National Guard, sisters Lori Turner and Sharon Cardia along with their families were rescued by an <a href="http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/10/thousands_rescued_from_bergen.html">anonymous good samaritan dump truck driver</a>.

  • New York Scuba Rescue Team

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  • Spencer Service

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