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Red Cross or Red Flag: The Case Against Faulty Fundraising

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Momo Burns-Min, Staff Writer

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With all the talk of recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is important to know how to help–and how not to help. With all the talk of recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is important to know how to help–and how not to help. Historically, the Red Cross has been highly regarded and widely successful; it was founded over a century ago and aided in service to American troops, natural disaster recovery, and many other health and safety services. However, the Red Cross of today is plagued with controversy and conflict, much of which goes undiscussed. Most students have at one time been affiliated with a branch of the Red Cross: maybe it was a seventh-grade babysitting course, or the Sophomore CPR certification. But it is likely that these are the only services of the American Red Cross that teenagers are actually familiar with. Many of the great American tragedies of this day and age happened before our generation was old enough to fully understand their effects; a large percentage of our student body wasn’t even born yet when 9/11 hit, and most of us were only toddlers during Hurricane Katrina. This is a perfectly valid reason as to why much of the population of Weston High School isn’t familiar with controversies surrounding the Red Cross. But as more and more students are becoming socially aware and making efforts to help those affected by recent natural disasters, it is critical that the student body remains informed and educated about who and what they are supporting. The American Red Cross has made many dishonorable mistakes within the past several decades, some of which came with more grave consequences than others. To follow is a list of some of the most significant wrongdoings in recent years, discussed in chronological order:

I. The September Eleventh Terrorist Attacks (2001)

The Red Cross had been the largest supplier of blood in the US for more than half a century at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Initially, the blood supply sent by the Red Cross to aid in the crisis was adequate. Soon, America’s Blood Centers sent a message to the Red Cross to stop blood collection in an effort to minimize wastage. However, the Red Cross did not heed to the request, and the organization continued to “restock its depleted national inventory” with the incoming blood donations. Human blood has a short shelf-life (about 42 days) and the excess supply of blood was eventually wasted. Additionally, the Liberty Fund, the section of the Red Cross that was receiving donations for the recent tragedy spent less than one third of the $543 million in donations on immediately helping victims of the catastrophe; the organization claimed to be saving money for tragedies yet to come, therefore withholding money from those who were in need.

II. Hurricane Katrina (2005)

After learning their lesson from the backlash over the organization’s fundraising strategies during the aftermath of 9/11, the American Red Cross put a huge amount of money into “relief” efforts. However, smaller, more localized non-profits were left staring in the face of massive expenses, and could have hugely benefitted from support from the Red Cross. Still, the organization stuck to its largely corporate roots, focusing on its own heroic efforts as opposed to aiding smaller and more effective establishments. Furthermore, the Red Cross failed to appropriately utilize donated items in addition to monetary pledges. For example, a truckload of donated pastries arrived moldy–thus inedible–because the items were shipped without refrigeration. It is unclear whether this was an act of carelessness or stinginess, but regardless, the amount of money to send a refrigerated truck would have cost next to nothing in comparison to the millions of dollars in donations.

III. Haitian Earthquake (2010)

During the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Red Cross raised almost half a billion dollars. However, even after investigation, no one was sure where all of the money was going. The organization claimed that the money was helping millions of Haitian citizens get “back on their feet,” 4.5 million citizens in fact. Yet, the populus of the areas affected by the natural disaster was not nearly that high; 4.5 million was the entire population of urban Haiti in 2010, thus claiming that the Red Cross was aiding more people than required aid. Another example of this was in the organization’s statement on housing efforts: despite the claim that they were sheltering 130,000 people, the charity had only built six permanent homes at the time. Additionally, despite the Red Cross’ release of the amount of money going to individual relief causes ($170 million for shelter, $44 million for food, and so on) no one ever stated the specific programs being run or exact costs or expenses of those programs. As later discovered, the American Red Cross spent almost $125 million on “internal expenses,” about a quarter of the money donated. Additionally, the charity was described as “reluctant to support the very unit that is designed to police wrongdoing within the organization” in a legal report. Between the math not checking out, the internal spending, and the reluctance to participate in ethical investigations, it seems that the response to the crisis in Haiti did not redeem the Red Cross.

IV. Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac (2011 and 2012)

After the tragedies of Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, the Red Cross left many people vulnerable, helpless, and afraid: handicapped victims were forced to sleep in their wheelchairs due to the charity’s lack of appropriate cots; registered sex offenders were found in children’s play areas because the organization didn’t follow procedure. Additionally, the organization lacked supplies like food, blankets, and batteries when they were needed days after the storm. However, when supplies were plentiful, many items went to waste, including tens of thousands of meals the organization was forced to throw away when they couldn’t find enough people to eat them. Despite the many otherwise-credible supporters of the Red Cross, secrets like these are incredibly damaging and severely discredit the organization as a whole.

V. Hurricane Harvey (2017)

While some issues aforementioned may be somewhat forgivable, the following instance of pure ignorance is nothing short of shameful. In a segment for NPR “Morning Edition,” the Red Cross’ operations and logistics executive was interviewed regarding the percent of donations being used for Harvey relief. Brad Kieserman, the executive in question, seemed to blunder during the discussion, responding to one comment with, “Yeah, I don’t think I know the answer to that any better than the chief fundraiser knows how many, how much it costs to put a volunteer downrange for a week and how many emergency response vehicles I have on the road today. So I think if he was on this interview and you were asking how many relief vehicles in Texas, I don’t think he’d know the answer and I don’t know the answer to the financial question I’m afraid”. It is reasonable that not every executive in every department can have full awareness of specifics outside of their branch. However, the Red Cross claims that for every dollar spent, an average of ninety-one cents is invested in “humanitarian services and programs”. The key word here is “spent,” because as many prior investigations have shown, not every dollar is spent. An executive of one of the largest charitable organizations in the world does not even know how much money is being used charitably, and perhaps that is a fatal blindness within the workings of the organization. Weston High School’s mission statement is to provide a safe and intellectually challenging environment that will empower students to become innovative thinkers, creative problem-solvers, effective communicators, and inspired learners prepared to thrive in the twenty-first century. If we are truly to be innovative, creative, effective, and inspired, than is the Red Cross the best place to send our funds? Almost all branches of the Weston school system are invested in helping those in need this year, especially after the recent tragedies of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Therefore, we must do all we can to keep informed, get to work, and help our national and global community; that’s what Weston is all about.

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Red Cross or Red Flag: The Case Against Faulty Fundraising