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That Red Cross Money Going?

Over $1.2 billion has been generously donated via the various large donation programs that were set up by the big charities in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the East Coast. But is the money really going to help the victims, their families and the rescue workers?

Last week Santa Rosa-based KSRO radio talk show host and CounterPuncher Pat Thurston contacted representatives of the American Red Cross in Washington DC to discuss the controversy that’s arisen about how they’ve handled the funds donated for the families of the victims of the September 11 east coast terrorist attacks.

Over $500 million has been pledged to the American Red Cross’s “Liberty Fund” so far. Donors probably assumed that this money would go to help the victims, their families, and the rescue workers. Of course whenever there’s that much money involved there must be some administration and checking to make sure programs are effective and that the claims are valid. “We assumed the money would be divided among the victims,” said Thurston, “that they’d just get a check. Apparently, that’s not the way it works.”

Family members of victims have appeared on tv over the last few weeks telling stories about the difficulties they’ve had in getting help from the Red Cross, and to a lesser extent from other agencies. The President of the Red Cross, Dr. Bernadine Healy, has resigned in the wake of the controversy citing differences in “management style — her governance,” said a spokesperson. Some people say it was because of misuse of funds.

Deborah Goldberg, a young woman whose title is “Development, Communications and Marketing Officer” for the American Red Cross in Washington DC, told Thurston, “We feel we’ve been honest with the public about where the money’s going.” Soon after the attacks, the Red Cross established “The Liberty Fund” to keep the 9/11 money separate from their other funding. According to the Red Cross’s website, the Liberty Fund is “to help the emerging human needs developing from this disaster as well as future terrorist attacks.” According to Goldberg this proves that the Red Cross has “always been very honest with the public about where the money’s going.”

“Tens of millions went to help the disaster relief workers,” asserted Ms. Goldberg. “and $190-$200 million is going to immediate disaster relief, which includes food, shelter, mental health counseling… it includes things like that.” “What about community outreach?” asked Thurston, at which point an older woman came on line on a speaker phone unannounced. “This is Debbie Daily,” she said. “I’m the Senior Director of Communications and Marketing and I thought I would join the call if that’s OK because I have an extensive background in community outreach. I have 24 years in the organization. We have a dual program in different communities throughout the nation, where we teach children in schools now about terrorist attacks and what they can do. We also have community outreach programs on preparing for terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction. We actually created an Anthrax brochure so people would have the best source of information about what to do with those terrorist activities. We’re doing a lot of grief and healing counseling. We’ve actually opened an 866 hotline and many of our chapters are using that as a model in their own communities, in places like Boston, where, you know, some of the airlines we’re commuting from… we’re doing outreach programs that help to deal with those family members that are in that community. … The person in Tennessee who’s also feeling the emotions of these terrorist attacks — their needs are also being met. We’ve been very clear from Day One. The relief we provide takes many categories. We have experience from Oklahoma City, from the San Francisco earthquake. We know that people… that type of trauma does not go away. We’re still serving the needs in Oklahoma city, the people that have been affected from that tragedy. So we try to make it very clear to donors that when you give to the American Red Cross so we can respond to this disaster in all the appropriate ways.”

“The Washington Post says that out of the amount collected, about $400million, out of that only $44 million has been distributed to more than 2200affected families,” noted Thurston.

An indignant Daily replied, “We have to get our facts and figures straight and recognize the chaos that is at ground zero. We have spent more than $140 million on disaster relief — free respite centers throughout the New York City area where people can come and be comforted by Red Cross volunteers. We are providing food and refreshments for all the workers. We have personally contacted families who would say that the Red Cross is an incredible agency with a history of 120 years of service and that they were there the minute this thing happened. So I think it’s important to get our facts and figures straight. The Red Cross has spent $140 million. We’ve committed over $300 million and we are looking at other ways we can provide additional service such as, you know, it’s only a couple, several weeks after the terrorist– that we learned we have an anthrax…, anthrax… um, terrorism threat. So we’re actually providing support to the victims of that threat right now. We’re doing public education and disaster preparedness to make sure that that threat doesn’t become something like September 11th.”

“Are those efforts addressed at anthrax coming out of money 866 compassion hot line so that people across the country… the young parent in Tennessee whose daughter is waking up every night filled with nightmares calls us and says, How can you help me get her through this difficult time? And we get a mental health counselor to talk to that parent and give him strategies on how to make sure that his young child gets through this traumatic time. So yes, we’re giving the most to direct assistance, to the people that were physically affected, but everybody in this country has also been affected. It would not be prudent for the American Red Cross not to make sure that we are prepared if, heaven forbid, that this happens someplace else, or that we didn’t take care of the needs of the person in Los Angeles that is also having affects from this terrible tragedy.

“But are your efforts concerned with the anthrax threat being funded through the Liberty Fund?” persisted Thurston.

“Yes,” Daily finally replied. “They are being funded through the Liberty Fund. Many of our donors see anthrax as another terrorist attack and as a, you know, as a threat. We are seeing lots of emerging needs coming from this whole effort. It was an event in our history that nobody has been able to comprehend. Now luckily the American Red Cross has experience through the Oklahoma City bombing, through the San Francisco earthquake… we know there are going to be additional needs that are going to come out of this situation. We want to work with other agencies to make sure that all the needs of the victims are being met. We have enough money in the pipeline to make sure we can meet the humanitarian needs of the people coming out of this tragedy. Certainly there have been some public service advertising and things that might be on the television, but we have contacted all of our, uh, different places that we might have advertising and we’ve instructed all of our field offices to be proactive in soliciting funds. “Mr. Becker, who is our interim chief executive officer, is a wonderful man who has many years of experience. He is an attorney, and we’re really excited to have him in a leadership role and I think that was important, and the board of governors is involved in figuring out the different ways that we should be spending any additional money that we might get over the$300-and-some million that we’ve already committed.”

Thurston then asked, “What about helping the Red Cross facility in Afghanistan that was bombed — twice — to help them rebuild and replenish their supplies?”

Dodging and missing the point again, Ms. Daily replied, “What’s very important is, the Red Cross, from a financial stewardship point of view, is very careful to make sure that, that our funding is specific to the activity, and that the Liberty Fund was not created, um, to help the Afghan Children’s Fund. That was a special fund that was created by our President of the United States. What he chose to do is make the American Red Cross the conduit of those funds. We already had programs in Afghanistan. We have feeding programs and other relief programs in Afghanistan so we were a natural conduit for those funds. So the dollars that kids are giving allover the country are basically going to the White House and then those funds are basically being calculated, the acknowledgement is being given to the kids. And then that money is going to our international response effort. …I hope everyone remembers that the American Red Cross is in their community very day, 24 hours a day, even above and beyond this disaster. And together we can save a life.”

Thurston wasn’t impressed by the Red Cross representatives. “I’m still disturbed by this, and I think a lot of people probably are,” said Thurston. “The Red Cross in recent weeks has been airing tv ads with images of Manhattan, and they’re asking for money and the ads may not specifically say that all the money is going to the WTC victims. But the ads imply that. And when the intention is that only a portion of the $500 million-plus dollars to the families, I think that should have been abundantly clear. Less than10% of the money pledged to the Liberty Fund has actually gone to the families of the victims. I have a hard time accepting that the people making the donations expected that it would only be 10 cents on the dollar going to the victims’ families. There are family members of victims who have not gotten any help and there are some who are not going to go and ask for assistance even though people made donations so that they could be helped and there wouldn’t be as bad a financial hardship on them, after losing a family member, after all the grief that they’re suffering. I feel that people were taken advantage of. I don’t like feeling that way because I support the American Red Cross. They do excellent work. They may well have been overwhelmed by the amount of money that came in. I don’t like to think that there was some gleeful administrator there somewhere who went, ‘Ooooh. Look at all this money. Now we can fix this and this and this. Now we can go do all these outreach programs we’ve always wanted to do.’ If that’s what happened, it sickens me. … If I specifically want the money to go to the families, by God I want the money to go to the families! If you have to take5% out to do administration, OK. But the bulk of my dollars is what I want to go to the families, not just 10 cents of it. …

“Isn’t it just a shame that non-profits are established that are supposed to do good but in fact are just scams to support the people who are running them? And there are. Now I’m not saying that that’s the Red Cross –don’t confuse these things. They gave an explanation for what they were doing with the money. I’m not satisfied with that explanation, but a lot of people are. Frankly, I think they duped people. I think the American Red Cross does a lot of good, but I’d think twice about making a contribution to them again when the money I send in is supposed to be specifically earmarked for something or someone who has met with tragedy and the Red Cross is involved with it. I want to make sure that the maximum amount of money goes to the victims. And if they want to hire mental health professionals, leave it up to them.” CP

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MARK SCARAMELLA is the Managing Editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Mendocino County, California. (www.theava.com). He can be reached at themaj@pacific.net.

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