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Anonymous woman donates $2,000 per flooded family

April 30, 1997

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) _ She’s being celebrated throughout this city. They are even calling her saintly. And nobody knows her name.

Only that she is wealthy. Only that she has never been here and has no ties to the region that was torn asunder by massive flooding almost two weeks ago.

Only that she has made the anonymous pledge to give $2,000 to each household swamped when the Red River rampaged through Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks, Minn. With an estimated 5,000 households eligible for payments, the pledge could cost the woman a total of $10 million.

Is it for real?

State and local officials say the checks are already being written.

``It’s going to be on an honor system in the evacuated districts,″ Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens said at a briefing today.

About 300 recipients lined up to get checks Tuesday at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is serving as a shelter for flood refugees.

``I’m going to hold on to it, get some stuff to get started, like some clothes, and then probably put the rest in the bank,″ said Steve Maragos, 29, an unemployed Grand Forks resident.

Kevin Dvorak, president of the North Dakota Community Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that is distributing the money, said the donor transferred more than $2 million into its account Tuesday.

He said between 300 and 500 payments were immediately made totaling $600,000 to $1 million.

Is there more? Time will tell.

Ms. Owens called the donation a gift from heaven.

``God has answered our prayers,″ she said. ``He has sent a person as an anonymous donor who cares about each and every one of us in this region and wants to help you without any repayment.

``It is a ray of hope so we can build on our future.″

Plans to distribute additional funds were being made, Dvorak said. No future disbursements will be made at shelters, and people will have 45 days to apply, he said.

The woman stipulated only that money go to people who had been affected by the flood, with a minimum of red tape.

``They need to be people who have actually suffered,″ Dvorak said. ``We’re going to have to trust the people of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks to be honest about their needs.″

The donor, who Dvorak would identify only as a woman living in the United States, contacted the mayors of the two neighboring cities about the donation late last week.

Initially, Dvorak and other officials wondered if the offer was a hoax. But their suspicions were subsequently dispelled. ``These were very reliable people,″ he said.

Ian Gust, 27, a Grand Forks bartender, did not get his check, but the idea alone was worth a toast to him.

``The first word I used when I heard about it was `crazy.′ I didn’t believe it,″ he said. ``It’s like the most fascinating thing I’ve ever heard.″

Maragos, like just about everyone else, would like to know the name of the donor.

``I would like to know someday who it was so maybe I could pay them back,″ he said.

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