TORONTO (CP) - An "amazing" outpouring of generosity has seen Canadians give more than $32 million to south Asian relief funds.
"It's really impressive," said Bernard Barrett of the Canadian Red Cross. "People, obviously, have been very touched by what they have seen, and the response has just been overwhelming." More than $26 million in donations were pledged to the Red Cross alone by Friday, an amount Barrett called "definitely unique."
Earlier Friday, the federal government pledged to exceed the $25 million originally earmarked for matching private donations. A spokesman said the government will match as much as is donated by individual Canadians up to Jan. 11.
Another $15 million had been committed for special projects, bringing the federal government's aid package to $40 million.
That figure seems poised to rise given the charitable response to the devastation wrought by tsunamis. On Friday, the United Nations said the death toll was approaching 150,000, a figure that includes five Canadians.
But the $32 million in donations to Canada's five major relief agencies also include corporate contributions, and several of the agencies have yet to separate those two streams.
"So all of us will have to subtract that," said David Agnew, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada.
The majority of UNICEF's estimated $3 million in donations are from individuals, said Agnew, who called Ottawa's pledge to match those funds "great news."
"It's a real incentive for people to donate, knowing that whatever they're able to give, it's doubled immediately," he said. "It will make our work go so much farther in the field."
Melanie Brooks of CARE Canada called Ottawa's plan to match funds "amazing."
"We have to get Canadians to keep contributing. They've proven themselves to be generous time and time again," said Brooks.
When it came time to assess the donations Thursday morning, a co-worker presented Brooks with "a stack of paper six inches thick."
"And every piece of paper represented a single donation," she said.
Many of the aid agencies admit they're behind in the tallying, with mail donations yet to be counted and people continuing to come in off the street to contribute.
With appeals continuing through the Media and in religious communities directly affected by the disaster, there was little indication that donation activity was on the wane.
On Friday, the call for aid was heard in mosques across the country as Muslims gathered for their weekly congregation.
"We're asking Muslims to donate generously," said Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "We're saying this is one of the worst disasters in recorded history and we should be generous as much as possible."
The Muslim community was encouraged during the noon-hour prayer to donate to the Red Cross and Muslim relief organizations.
Other agencies reported Friday that they've exceeded fundraising targets set earlier in the week, with World Vision having raised $3.5 million, Oxfam $1.58 million, and the UJA federation of Greater Toronto more than $100,000 in just one day.
Saskatchewan will give $1 million to help with the recovery effort. Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario have also made donations.
Corporate donations continued to roll in as well.
Telus and its employees will donate up to $500,000, the company said in a news release Friday.
As well, the company will donate one cent from every domestic and international long distance call from Dec. 31 to midnight Jan. 3 - one of the busiest calling periods of the year.
Under the employee donation program, Telus said it would match all contributions made by employees to the Red Cross, Oxfam and UNICEF from Dec. 6 through Jan. 31, up to $250,000.
"Our hearts go out to all those who have been impacted by the disaster in south Asia," said Telus CEO Darren Entwistle.
The B.C. Government Employees Union is making a $30,000 donation on behalf of its members.
"Given the urgent need, we want to get the money on the ground where it's needed as fast as we can," said union president George Heyman.