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Jim Towey
Jim Towey
Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

September 16, 2005

Jim Towey

Good afternoon. This morning the President and Mrs. Bush attended a service at the National Cathedral to observe the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. All Americans today are asked to pray for or otherwise remember those who died because of this terrible storm, a number known now to exceed 700 souls. It is also a day for us all to recommit to helping rebuild the shattered Gulf State areas and last evening the President offered a number of ways to do this. President Bush has been awed by the work of the “armies of compassion” who have spent the nearly three weeks since the storm housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, and most of all, loving those who survived and consoling them. So today is an important day at the White House and across America. It is great to be back on "Ask the White House" and I am happy to answer some of your questions.

Ken, from Arlington, VA writes:
Can you name some effective religious organizations through which I can donate to disaster relief?

Jim Towey is a website that can direct you to many place to donate. But I want to urge you to consider keeping an eye out for the little groups in the affected areas that won’t be getting mention in the big fundraising appeals that are struggling - and last night President Bush mentioned that some of the Bush-Clinton disaster relief funds will be given to local places of worship to help defray costs they incurred. Many vital social services are administered out of such places, and in some poor neighborhoods, they were the only providers of care. So I think we need to keep in mind the little groups who will be needing help in rebuilding. Also, consider ways you can donate your time or other goods or services to people in need in your own community. I think those efforts buttress what we are doing in the wake of Katrina. We should remember our neighbors in need and help them because some of us can’t get to the affected areas or get in touch with evacuated families.

dan, from seattle writes:
Why does the government endorse a National Day of Prayer?

Jim Towey
You may want to read the President’s proclamation that explains why we are having this National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. You can read it here: /news/releases/2005/09/20050908-12.html

Tom, from Gaithersburg, MD writes:
Why doews huricane releief have to be "faith based". Why can't people withouth "faith" get huricane relief? Thomas Munro

Jim Towey
Hi Tom. Just to be clear, people without faith are equally eligible to receive disaster assistance. There is not a "faith test" for aid. And people very devout in their faith or with no faith at all have been volunteering and helping serve hot meals to the hungry and house those without home. It has been marvelous to watch.

Rick, from Schenectady, NY writes:
Word News has been covering how ministries have responded to the hurricane and following relief efforts. What are your thoughts on it? Are you surprised by how churches and ministries have responded? Is there a clearninghouse that people should go you (a website, phone number, etc.?).

Jim Towey
I am not surprised. I have been seeing the good works of these organizations for years and so I am not surprised that so many have responded with such generosity and helped complete strangers and welcomed them. I urge you to go to for information on what groups are doing.

Dave, from Washington, DC writes:
My question is about the ability of faith-based organizations to assist in reconstructing the Gulf region. Given the devastation that local service organizations (particularly local churches) have sustained, will they have the organization or capacity to provide much relief, or will they need to be rebuilt with federal dollars? What faith-based organizations do you think are in a position to receive and utilize federal money on the ground?

Jim Towey
Cliff and Betty asked similar questions about the role of faith-based groups in the recovery. I have marveled at the miracles that have been done - where different faith traditions have reached out with compassion to help those in desperate need. One woman I know, Tonja Myles, said she was driving to her local supermarket in Baton Rouge on the Sunday before Katrina and said the Lord told her to open a shelter. She went and did that and within 24 hours hundreds of New Orleans evacuees were streaming into it. She and Darren, her husband, worked non stop for days. And they were just two of tens of thousands whose faith compelled them to spring to action without counting the cost. Just remarkable. We have seen great things, too, from the Red Cross and their volunteers, and from so many Americans who saw a neighbor in need and helped. The large FBO’s like the Salvation Army do have the capacity to help on a national level - Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, the Jewish Federations, Volunteers of America and other groups have broad capacities to respond. But the local responses by the little groups have been simply sensational - about 2,000 Muslims in the Houston area were serving meals to evacuees at the Brown Convention Center, and my friend Tony Perkins was part of a 100-plus effort of local churches in Baton Rouge that housed thousands of evacuees and provided tons of food. It has been inspirational to watch all of this - and the Federal government has been working closely with them, and giving them FEMA supplies, to assist in this disaster relief.

Cindi, from Meridian, MS writes:
I would like to ask our federal government in general why it believes it should progressively continue to become a charity organization? The private sector, churches, and non-profit agencies are much better equipped to handle these disaster efforts on a local level. Federal assistance should not be long term. Thanks for considering this controversial issue - Cindi (from the disaster area of MS)

Jim Towey
Hope you are doing OK, Cindi, and that your life in Mississippi has not been turned upside down. While President Bush has spoken often of the central role of government in addressing the concerns of people in need, he has made clear that the focus of Federally-funded programs should not be whether the organization believes in God or not but whether their programs are effective: are addicts recovering and the homeless getting off the streets and not returning? Those and other questions focus the debate and recognize that many religious charities and grass roots groups have the trust of the people they serve, and President Bush knows that while government can not love, they can.

Jackie, from Novelty, Ohio writes:
What is President Bush's Faith Based Initiative?

Jim Towey
The President believes that the Federal government should partner with the most effective social service providers in this country - be they faith-based or secular - in order to better help those in need. When he took office there were barriers in place that discriminated against faith-based groups. He has removed those barriers and will continue to work to ensure a "level playing field" in the Federal grants process. And now 28 governors have faith-based offices and over 100 mayors, so this movement is spreading. You may want to go to our website at and learn more about what President Bush is doing to advance this initiative.

Kelly, from Kansas City, MO writes:
Dear Mr. Towey: In light of the recent ruling by a Superior Court judge that it is unconstitutional to recite the pledge of allegiance in our public schools, is it your view that the federal government is growing ever more divided over the issue of not only God, but of our national heritage in general? Further, are we to believe that the message being sent by our judges and justices in all these recent "no god references" and "no ten commandments" rulings is that our forefathers were out of touch with what should guide this nation at it's most fundamental levels? Do you have any concern about the fate of a nation that abandons it's religious heritage in an effort to be all things to all people?

I appreciate your consideration of these issues as they relate to a National Day of Prayer, and I have to wonder how much longer the White House will be able to staff a position such as yours......

Most respectfully, Kelly

Jim Towey
It is my understanding that Attorney General Gonzales will be challenging this Federal Court decision. I greatly respect the wisdom of those who drafted our Constitution and the First Amendment to it that struck a dynamic balance: no establishment of religion but at the same time protecting the free exercise of it.

There is a danger when faith is purged from the public square, and President Bush has succeeded with his Faith-based and Community Initiative in restoring balance. He doesn’t fear faith, and the recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina underscores the need our country has for its faith institutions and for partnerships between government and religious charities and grassroots groups who can administer important programs with love and tenderness.

Thomas Little also asked a question about this issue. I am sure Congress would not allow this judge’s decision to become the law of the land.

Ashley, from Haskell,New Jersey writes:
I just wanted to tell you that me and my school are doing fundraisers to help with the hurricane. We are planning to do Student Council Carwash called "Clean for Katrina." We are also going to do fundraisers to help with the relief efforts. Thats all I really wanted to say...Thanks for reading this _Ashley_

Jim Towey
Good work, Ashley!

Meagan, from Arizona writes:
Hi Jim: What role have you seen prayer play in the recovery and healing from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina? How is prayer figuring in to the response by the FBCI office and the White House?

Thanks for your good work and blessings on you and your team.

Jim Towey
I think many Americans are praying, and today at the National Cathedral the President and Mrs. Bush prayed for those who have been lost, and for the survivors and their futures. Our Office has tried to make sure that good lines of communication exist to help the groups providing disaster relief. We will never know how many families opened their doors to strangers and housed them, or how many places of worship changed their auditoriums or sanctuaries or gyms into homeless shelters and feeding centers. Amazing to behold.

joyce, from pa. writes:
Does the president realize that there are millions of us who love and respect him and his authority? It grieves me to hear such harsh words about our leaders and government that's being said from anti- persons that has no respect for any thing or any one but their own personal gain. How sad it has become. I now have a new respect for Moses that tried to lead the children into the new promise land and all they did was grumble and fight blaming everyone but them selves every step of the way taking 40 years that didn't have to be. keep up the good work and keep the faith

Jim Towey
Joyce, I know the President appreciates the encouragement and prayers of people like you and Elisha in Hampton, VA, and Marilyn in Texas, and others who wrote something similar. I love working for him and admire him.

todd, from austin, texas writes:
Our church helps serve a hot breakfast to the homeless every tuesday and thursday morning. For the last several weeks, we've seen a marked dropoff in "attendance" and believe it is because even the neediest among us are trying to make due so that resources can be directed to the storm evacuees. Is that something you are seeing in other areas?

Jim Towey
First of all, good for you and your church for doing this hidden, humble work, week in and week out. I think in some of the communities to which displaced persons fled there were some fluctuations like you describe. However, I think many are now settled into their new surroundings and I urge you to keep doing this important work for those in Austin in need.

Jim Towey

Well, we've run out of time and I want to thank those who took the time to send in a question - maybe next time I'll get to yours (I hope so!). I hope you can find some way today to pray for or otherwise remember the people who lost their lives because of Hurricane Katrina, and find some way to respond generously to the needs of these victims or those in your communities who have needs.

There are many, many people who have loved beyond measure these past 20 days. Mother Teresa used to urge people to "love until it hurts" and I have seen countless people volunteering and performing heroic tasks in rescuing and evacuating people and so forth. We can pray for continued strength for them and that “compassion fatigue” doesn’t set in - as the President said last night, there is much to be done in the months and years ahead, and all of us can pledge to do our part to make sure the Gulf States are restored and better than ever.