March 25 (Bloomberg) -- The news that Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s nonprofit arm would hand out $10 million in $1,000 debit cards to Hurricane Sandy victims sparked relief and skepticism.
“My husband said ‘I’ll believe it when it’s in my hands,” said Elizabeth Farrell, who works in pharmaceutical sales.
She thought it was a godsend. The storm flooded the finished basement of their Long Beach, New York, house, damaging Elizabeth’s home office and the playroom of their 4-year-old daughter, Mara.
The couple’s insurer didn’t cover much of the $50,000 in damage to their home, she said. That’s their estimate for the cost to replace computers, valuables, furniture and washer and dryer in the basement and hiring contractors to renovate the space. Their flood insurance covers only the basement’s hot-water heater and boiler.
The Farrells picked up the cash card at the Long Beach Middle School gymnasium this month. The money is meant to help with incidentals while victims are rebuilding, relocating or waiting for insurance claims to be processed.
Cantor Fitzgerald, one of the largest independent U.S. brokerage firms, is distributing the cards to 10,000 families through its Hurricane Sandy Family Relief Program. The initiative was funded largely through the company’s Charity Day held on Sept. 11 each year. All commissions raised on that day support a variety of charitable organizations globally.
The company lost 658 of its 960 employees in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
“Cantor Fitzgerald unfortunately knows tragedy and pain maybe as well as anyone in the world and we decided that we had to go out and help,” said Chief Executive Officer Howard Lutnick before handing out cards in Far Rockaway, Queens. “We think the best way to help is to put money in the hands of the parents.”
The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund has given more than $180 million to 800 families and 932 children of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It has also helped those affected by Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami, the 2010 Haiti and 2011 Japan earthquakes, and now Sandy victims. At Long Beach Middle School, more than 1,300 families lined up for a debit card.
“When in your lifetime do you have the opportunity to give away $1.3 million in two hours to help someone in need?” said Edie Lutnick, the co-founder and executive director of the relief fund and Howard’s sister.
The Robin Hood Foundation also helped Sandy victims with direct aid by raising more than $67 million from the public and at a Dec. 12 all-star concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The poverty-fighting nonprofit has given out about $62 million to nonprofit groups. Some of that aid has gone to Sandy victims in the form of $25 gift cards from retailers such as Target Corp.
Judy Carter of Brooklyn received gift cards from Good Shepherd Services, a Robin Hood grantee that aids the poor and needy. After Sandy struck, Carter found her furniture and belongings “floating around” in her Red Hook apartment.
“I lost everything in my apartment,” she said. “I have no papers, no birth certificates, no anything, and they said I wouldn’t be able to move into my apartment until April.”
Cantor’s Hurricane Sandy Family Support Program will assist parents of children attending 19 elementary schools the company selected in neighborhoods most affected by Sandy. They include communities in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Staten Island and New Jersey.
The cash has helped families who lost their homes and people like Carol Perez, an occupational therapist in Long Beach, who needs gas money for her new 40-minute commute to work since she’s been displaced from her condominium.
Lutnick has stood out in the cold and rain to give away debit cards, and he plans to be present for the final card distribution at P.S. 52 in Staten Island in April.
“I have to be here,” Lutnick said. “If a volunteer is out in the freezing cold, how are they going to be comfortable being outside? Seeing me standing right next to them doing the same job.”
Muse highlights include Richard Vines on dining, Philip Boroff on theater.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at pcole3@Bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at Mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net