WEST While hundreds of West homeowners seek FEMA and insurance money to help rebuild their lives, millions of dollars in private donations is yet to be distributed.

According to a News 8 tally, more than $5 million in private donations has funneled into accounts set up at the town's two banks, as well as a variety of relief funds through agencies like the Salvation Army, Baylor University and the Waco Foundation. [SEE NOTE]

The Waco Foundation has collected the largest amount to date, close to $1.4 million. Executive director Ashley Allison said a lot of that money could be pivotal to West residents who can't find full relief elsewhere.

Elderly folks might be under-insured, or not insured at all, she said.

But Allison admits only about $20,000 of the $1.4 million has been handed out.

Baylor hasn't yet distributed a single penny.

The Salvation Army told News 8 most of the money it has put into West so far was to cover operational expenses of their relief efforts on the ground.

So what accounts for the holdup?

Town leaders have been pushing for most of the private donations to be channeled through a newly established non-profit organization called the West Long-Term Recovery Center.

The center is trying to attain a 501(c)3 designation so it can fully operate as a charity and start helping distribute the private money that the relief funds and banks have collected.

It is a process, we know that, said interim executive director Karen Bernsen.

The Internal Revenue Service will ultimately decide on approving the center's designation. An application was filed last month, but there is no timetable for approval.

Bernsen it was also important that homeowners try and exhaust all efforts through FEMA and the SBA before looking to private money for relief. That's because those agencies won't duplicate, or provide relief checks, if they think a homeowner has already been covered for that expense by private funds or insurance.

That is very important, she said.

FEMA said last week more than $6.5 million has been approved for nearly 800 residents impacted by the fertilizer plant explosion on April 17. People who are still looking for more information on the relief process can find additional information at the West Long-Term Recovery website.

NOTE: A number of other organizations, like the Red Cross, provided resources following the blast, but because these groups didn't specifically track or mark donations as intended solely for long-term relief in West, they are not included in the above tally.


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