HARLEM — An East Harlem-based crowdfunding company is waving its fees to help victims of the fatal explosion that destroyed two apartment buildings raise money for essential needs.
Dana Ostomel, founder and chief gifting officer for Deposit a Gift, said the company's offices at 119th Street and Third Avenue shook the morning of the explosion. After she found out what happened, Ostomel, also an East Harlem resident, said she knew her company's fundraising platform could be of help.
"We are so close to the explosion that we just want to do some good," said Ostomel, 37, a former advertising executive.
Eight people were killed, more than 60 injured and dozens of families were displaced as a result of the explosion on March 12 at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue at 116th Street that's believed to have been caused by a gas leak.
The company launched five years ago as a cash gift registry that allowed people to easily give money for couples to do things such as pay for a honeymoon or gather a down payment for a home.
Last year, it morphed into a crowdsource fundraising site that allows those requesting funds to set up a memorial page to raise money for funerals, scholarships, family support monies and charitable contributions in someone's name.
So far the site has helped to raise $125,000 in capital funds for a school, $70,000 in a month for one person's memorial fund and money for the New York Foundling Hospital in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
A general fundraising page for the blast victims has raised $1,500 of its $10,000 goal but Ostomel hopes those affected by the incident will create their own memorial pages which function as a micro web site.
"It's the ability to showcase why you need the money and what you will use it for," said Ostomel. Donors can also leave personal messages and prayers which the people who set up the pages appreciate.
Those who were displaced by the tragedy and have financial needs are also invited to set up a page, said Ostomel.
"It's about giving people a tool so their friends and family can help them get back on their feet," she said.
Normally, the company charges a 4 percent fee of the total raised. That fee will be waived for victims of the East Harlem explosion.
"We are going to put profit aside," said Ostomel, a married mom of two. "We just want to contribute any way we can."
Officials from the mayor's office and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the best way to help now is to donate time to an organization such as the Red Cross or money to the Mayor's Fund To Advance New York City which has already secured $250,000 in donations for those affected by the explosion.
All of the money from the general explosion fund Deposit a Gift has set up will be forwarded to the Mayor's Fund.
"We want to use this site to rally our community," said Ostomel.