The National Compassion Fund exists for one reason: to collect and distribute donations to victims of mass casualty crimes.
And that’s why Tops Markets partners with the National Compassionate Fund to administer the Buffalo Survivors Fund 5/14, established following the May 14 mass shooting at a Tops store on Jefferson Avenue that killed 10 people. As of early Saturday, the fund had received $2.44 million in donations from 11,900 contributors.
The Buffalo 5/14 fund will return all money donated to victims – from the families of those killed in the shooting to the three people injured, to store workers and shoppers who endured the traumatic event.
Tops chose to work with the National Compassion Fund because of her experience managing donations during other traumatic events.
“People want to help,” said Jeffrey Dion, executive director of the National Compassion Fund. “And we want to give them the opportunity to help while they’re thinking about it. And if you wait too long, they’re going to get distracted and start paying attention to other things.”
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The supermarket chain covers the expenses of the Buffalo 5/14 fund with a separate donation of $75,000, in addition to Tops’ own contribution to the victims’ fund.
This means that none of the donations will be used to cover administrative expenses – a cost that can quickly diminish the money going to a charity’s stated purpose.
By contrast, nearly a quarter of the $442,000 raised by Buffalo Bills fans for the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation after a game that propelled the Bills into the playoffs in 2017 went toward expenses.
It is expected to take months for the money to be distributed to Tops’ victims. This will allow time for further donations to be made and for a thorough application process for recipients to be completed.
“We’re talking millions of dollars, and we want to make sure we’re doing it right, that we have a process that’s fair, transparent, and trauma-informed,” Dion said.
This process begins with a steering committee, made up of community members who will make key decisions on how to distribute the money.
“People take that responsibility very seriously,” Dion said. “It’s kind of like a jury deliberation: they’re trying to figure out what’s fair, what’s the right thing to do to divide that money.”
A separate fund, called the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund, addresses community needs beyond those of victims. This fund is led by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.
Dion described how the Buffalo 5/14 fund and its local decision makers will proceed:
• The Rev. Mark Blue, president of the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP, and Paul Vukelic, president and CEO of Try-It Distributing, have been named co-chairs of the steering committee. Other members will be appointed soon.
Steering committees for other funds have ranged from 12 to 25 people, Dion said. “The most important thing is that you have the right kind of people and that you have a committee that is a representative reflection of the community it serves.”
The National Compassion Fund is asking for certain skill sets to be represented on the committee, including a trusts and estates attorney, a psychological trauma expert, a victim services expert, as well as religious and community leaders. ‘company. Sometimes major donors are appointed to the committee. And when a unionized workplace is involved – like Tops – the fund recommends that a union representative sit on the committee.
• Before the committee meets for the first time, the National Compassion Fund provides members with an outline of a draft protocol, with sections for members to make decisions about their own fund and community.
Once approved, the draft protocol is published for public consultation. The fund’s website has a link where anyone interested in tracking its progress can sign up to receive updates. At the end of the public consultation period, a public meeting is organized.
“They can ask a protocol question, they can offer feedback,” Dion said. “In my experience, sometimes people just want to come forward and share their story and be heard. And all of those things are perfectly legitimate.”
• The Steering Committee finalizes the protocol, establishing the rules under which the National Compassion Fund will operate. Next, an online request for potential recipients is created, a process that takes about two weeks.
The steering committee decides how long the application period is open. With other funds, it’s been about a month.
• Applications will then be reviewed. Paralegals from three major firms in the Washington, DC area offer their services to do this work, free of charge. Paralegals ensure that submitted documents are complete; otherwise, they follow up with candidates to resolve any issues.
• The next step is to verify the claims, ensuring that the claimants were at the store that day. If the applicant is a Tops employee, the fund will validate the information with the company. If the applicant was a client, the fund will verify the information with law enforcement.
Claimants who have been injured must consent to the release of their medical information, and the fund follows up with the hospital to confirm details of their treatment.
Once this search is complete, the National Compassion Fund reviews the applications. If everything appears to be in order, applications are sent to another DC-area law firm whose paralegals perform a “fresh-eye review and make sure everything is complete and ready to be paid,” it said. Dio said.
• Then the applications sit and wait.
“We don’t make decisions on how much people get until the end of the process because we give 100% of the money,” Dion said. “In order to make this decision, we have to tell the steering committee, ‘Here is how much money has been given and here is how many people have been validated in each category’ (of recipients). Now we have to approve a distribution plan that gives 100% of this money to validated candidates.”
Then, the steering committee determines how much money goes to each category of beneficiaries.
Once the distribution plan is approved, beneficiaries will start receiving funds within days, he said. Until then, the funds are held by Bank of America, a partner of the National Compassion Fund.
There are no strings attached to how recipients spend the money, Dion said. Some have established scholarship funds. Others paid a mortgage for a year.
“There are as many options and reasons as there are victims, and that’s why we want them to be able to decide what helps them,” Dion said.
• The VictimConnect Resource Center – a program of the National Center for Victims of Crime – has trained victim specialists who educate victims about the fund and information about resources available in their communities.
The National Compassion Fund has distributed nearly $106 million in donations to more than 3,500 recipients in 21 different incidents since 2014. It is an affiliate of the nonprofit National Center for Victims of Crime.
Of all the funds administered by the National Compassion Fund, the one that received the largest amount of donations – about $33.6 million – was for victims of a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. , in 2016.
For donations made online through GoFundMe, a credit card processing fee is charged. Donors have the option of increasing their donation to cover these costs. The National Compassion Fund recommends that donors contributing $5,000 or more pay by check or wire transfer.