Red Cross donations: Remember September 11
I hope we soon see a lot of coverage of how the Red Cross is using its Hurricane Sandy contributions.
For everyone from Mitt Romney to President Obama to the good-hearted people who raised $23 million through NBC’s telethon last Friday, the Red Cross has become the charity of choice for victims of Sandy – just as it was the default charity after 9/11. But if New York’s last mass disaster is any indication, how the Red Cross uses the money is worth a lot of reporters’ attention.
In the months after 9/11, the Red Cross demonstrated that it was great at providing immediate relief such as blankets, food and short-term shelter, but it really wasn’t in the business of providing costlier long-term aid, such as help for people to rebuild homes and businesses. Thus, after $850 million in 9/11 contributions had poured into the organization, far surpassing what it could spend handing out blankets and sandwiches and setting up shelters, a mini-scandal unfolded when it was revealed that much of the money people thought they were donating to victims of the terror attacks was in fact being socked away to provide that same kind of short-term relief for victims of future fires or floods.
At the time, Red Cross officials defended themselves by explaining, correctly, that all of their 9/11 appeals included language somewhere on all printed solicitations or in television ads saying that “the funds raised will be used for this and other disasters.” That subtle disclaimer (accompanied by images of the Twin Towers and Pentagon rubble) was widely criticized. It was initially defended by Red Cross officials because many of the locally-based board members consider it an article of faith that funds be spread across the country for the benefit of all disaster victims.
Eleven year later, on the Red Cross webpage soliciting donations with the headline “HURRICANE SANDY: HELP THOSE IN NEED,” there is a fulsome description of all the help being provided to the storm’s victims. However, the last sentence says: Financial donations help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy, as well as countless crises at home and around the world.” (Italics are mine).