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In Aurora, one wounded woman, two donation sites: Where to give?

www.farrahsoudani.com

The Farrah Soudani Fund website was set up by her family to raise money for a disability trust for the woman who was wounded in the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting.

 

In the days following the deadly shootings in Aurora, Colo., two sites soliciting donations were created for Farrah Soudani, a 22-year-old whose spleen and kidney were removed after she and dozens of others were shot in a movie theater during the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The first was set up on gofundme.com by a friend of Soudani’s mother who pledged that all the money would go to Soudani. By Thursday evening, the site had raised more than $143,000.

But Soudani’s family on her dad's side worried about where that money would end up. They didn’t know this woman well, her brother Jordan Soudani said. Marty Soudani, a business owner, argued that a disability trust should be set up for his younger cousin, to protect her from creditors.


“We don’t know if that fund is going to go 100 percent to her,” Marty Soudani said. A trust would be more secure, he said; if Soudani, who does not have health insurance, went bankrupt, he said, creditors wouldn’t be able to touch the trust money, which could help to cover long-term care.

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The Soudani family, which has raised about $10,000 for the Farrah Soudani Fund, has asked those handling the gofundme.com site to transfer the donations to the trust. But so far, the family said, they have remained noncommittal. Those handling the gofundme.com site did not reply to a message from NBC News sent through the donation site.

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Victoria Albright, who manages the site, responded to skeptics in an online post: “I will see that these funds are never manipulated, or land in the wrong hands. This is ALL about Farrah and her recovery. Promise!”

“We’re not saying they’re thieves,” Marty Soudani said, “but they’re not working with the family.”

Soudani isn’t alone in being wary of outsiders’ zeal to raise money.

Ken Berger — president and CEO of Charity Navigator, a non-profit charity watchdog group — told NBC’s Technolog that he advises caution.

gofundme.com

A website set up by a friend of Soudani's mother has raised more than $143,000.

"Disasters are a time when people run into a situation where they, to some degree, are flying blind because the charities they know — the ones they typically give to — may not be providing services in the area,” Berger said. “So it's a time that scammers are likely to prey on people.”

Anticipating this, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper encouraged people to give through GivingFirst.org, which raised nearly $2 million by Thursday. There, donors can choose a specific nonprofit – Aurora Mental Health Center or Denver Center for Crime Victims, for example – or ask that their money go wherever deemed necessary. The University of Colorado Hospital Foundation has also solicited donations for a 7/20 Victims Fund to help cover the care of those shot in the early hours of July 20.

Still, for those whose loved ones remain hospitalized, their bills soaring, raising money through sites such as PayPal or wepay.com has immediate appeal. A fund for Caleb Medley, who was in a medically induced coma while his wife gave birth to their son, Hugo, had $330,000 by Thursday evening. Medley does not have health insurance, according to the site.

The site says Medley and his wife “need help covering their medical bills (which will no doubt be in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars), cost of living, baby supplies, and maybe even a college fund for Hugo! They need our help!”

But officials warn that a significant influx of cash could mean the victims are no longer eligible for certain social services, such as Medicaid, which covers long-term care for low-income people.   

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“If you give to an individual, it’s not tax deductible and it can affect the long-term security of those folks,” said Dana Rinderknecht, manager of online giving at GivingFirst.org. “They can lose some services.”

Rachel Reiter, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, emphasized that Medicaid is determined on a case-by-case basis but said income is one of the factors considered.

Reiter said state workers are helping families figure out if they qualify for aid, particularly if they have long-term needs. Medicaid helps to cover the medical care of families, children, pregnant women and people with disabilities -- particularly those with long-term care needs.  

“Giving through a nonprofit is strongly encouraged,” Reiter said in an e-mail. “For individuals who are disabled, excess funds may be placed in a Disability Trust and the funds would not be counted against the individual. We have staff working with the hospitals and families where this may be an option.”

Christine Handel, a Soudani family friend who helped to create the trust site, described raising money in the wake of such a tragedy as “navigating a minefield.”

“There’s no road map for this when these things happen,” Handel said. “It’s not that people have bad intentions – they don’t have knowledge. We don’t want Farrah to worry about tax season next year. She needs to go to her appointments and see her doctors and get better.”  

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