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Local Philippine-Americans turn grief into typhoon relief

Tuesday - 11/19/2013, 6:51am  ET

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BOWIE, Md. - They haven't slept for days as they've tried to reach loved ones. There's worry that assistance to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines will diminish to a trickle as time passes by. They are the "Phil-Ams," Philippine-Americans, who want to turn their grief into action.

On Monday, dozens of Philippine-Americans met in the Bowie, Md., offices of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin to get an update on aid to the region and strategize on ways to deliver the much needed assistance to the island nation.

The Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Cuisia Jr. addressed concerns about scams and corruption.

"There are always unscrupulous people who will take advantage of the situation," Cuisia said.

That's why Cuisa says donors should look for charitable organizations with a long track record of relief work.

"Like the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services -- these are organizations that have proven themselves to be trustworthy," Cuisa said.

Eileen Cosby, with the Filipino Family Fund was blunt: "We need a turnkey operation, or people will die."

She's adamant that the bigger non-governmental organizations work with the small boots-on-the ground relief operations. Cosby has 26 relatives in the Philippines and as of Monday afternoon, she hadn't heard from any. One of the organizers in the room suggested staging a fundraising concert, and Cosby wasn't afraid to think big, "We want Bono" she said, referring to the U2 frontman who's famous for his work in relief efforts around the world.

Maryland Del. Kris Valderrama noted the turnout at Monday's meeting and was encouraged by the determination of the groups assembled.

"For me, I try to hold it back, but it is very emotional," Valderrama said.

Dr. Bambi Lorica from McLean, Va., noted the repeated calls for unity at the meeting on Monday. She explained that in the Philippine community, people identify most strongly with their own cities or regions, and worried that it could dilute the impact of fundraising.

"The culture in the Philippines is very regionalistic, and so we need to rise above that and work together as a nation," Lorica said.

PhilipphinesUSA.org has a list of sites accepting donations for relief efforts.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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