The 49 staff members of Gambit Weekly, who were evacuated from their homes and left without jobs or income by Hurricane Katrina, will receive their first payments this week from the Gambit Relief Fund, which was established by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies soon after the disaster struck.
On Friday afternoon, $47,000 was wired from the fund into Gambit Weekly’s account at Paychex, a payroll-services company the AAN-member paper uses to process its regular payroll. By Wednesday, that money will have been direct deposited in equal $1,000 payments to the bank account of each Gambit staffer. In addition, two Gambit employees who had not been set up for direct-deposit payment will receive $1,000 checks by mail.
These payments to Gambit employees are gifts and as such are not subject to payroll tax under the U.S. Internal Revenue code. Gambit Weekly co-owners Margo and Clancy DuBos, and one employee to whom they are related, declined to accept assistance from the fund.
The Gambit Relief Fund was established by AAN within its Alternative Newsweekly Foundation to accept charitable donations from companies and individuals who want to provide assistance to Gambit Weekly employees. The Fund had $52,160 in deposits as of Friday, Sept. 9, before the money was wired. AAN has also received pledges from members for an additional $20,000 that hasn’t been received yet.
The money collected so far comprises contributions from 14 AAN-member companies and 39 individuals. The great majority of individual contributions were made by New Times Media LLC and Village Voice Media employees, whose parent companies have both aggressively promoted a matching-funds program under which they will match up to $15,000 in employee donations. (Both companies also sent $15,000 contributions the day the fund was announced.) Nineteen New Times employees have contributed a total of $3,295 to the fund, and 14 VVM employees have donated $2,365. Of the remaining contributions, two were sent by journalists who are not employed by AAN papers.
The most unusual contribution came from Willamette Week publisher Richard Meeker, who express-mailed 525 two-dollar bills to the AAN office last week. Meeker says he began collecting $2 bills a few years ago with the idea that “they should carry some good luck with them.” That way, he explains, when a needy beneficiary came along, he “could hand off the positive juju at a helpful moment.”
AAN is compiling a complete list of contributions, which will be published the next time the association provides a fundraising status report.
Ideally, AAN would raise enough money to be able to provide Gambit staffers with financial assistance for at least two months, and perhaps as long as three months, according to AAN executive director Richard Karpel.
To accomplish that goal, a great deal more money must be raised, so AAN will continue to encourage its member papers and their employees to contribute to the fund. In addition, AAN is working with associate member Katherine Topaz to produce a series of house ads that members can use in their own papers — in print and on the Web — to direct readers to contribute to the Gambit Fund as well as as-yet undetermined disaster-relief organizations in Mississippi and Louisiana. The house ads will be available for download from the AAN Web site later this week.
AAN has turned to Jackson Free Press editor Donna Ladd and Gambit Weekly publisher Margo DuBos to identify the general Katrina-relief organizations that the association will support. AAN asked them to identify smaller, fast-moving organizations that quickly and efficiently direct money to those with the greatest need.