The lack of effectiveness and transparency of the American Red Cross in its response to recent fire disasters was clearly noted in a recent Modesto Bee editorial.
Unfortunately, that same opinion piece failed to point out the very effective and always transparent work The Salvation Army was providing in these same terrible situations.
One significant difference between the organizations is the aggressive marketing and public relations work the Red Cross initiates immediately upon learning of any disaster, local or national. While the Red Cross is busy sending out press releases and media representatives, the Salvation Army is nearly always first on the scene, providing emergency relief and comfort without taking time to call the TV station or local newspapers to proclaim their noble efforts.
We saw this play out first-hand during the great flood of 1997. Saturday morning, right after the water went into the spill gates at Don Pedro Dam, we opened the Salvation Army Red Shield gymnasium and began setting up cots and provisions to take care of folks who we knew would soon be washed out of their homes.
That night, as the water rose in south Modesto along the Tuolumne River, we had nearly a full house. We established our emergency routines and began preparing for a number of days of service to the displaced while the river continued to overflow.
But on Sunday afternoon we received a stern message from the Red Cross: “We are in charge of emergencies.”
Soon, Red Cross representatives were sitting in our board room telling us how they were going to run our shelter.
The first thing they did was plaster red “+” decals all over our doors, windows and entries. They then introduced us to our new “Certified Disaster Coordinator” who would now be in charge. (Remember, this is at our facility.)
By evening, our gym was full, the “new and improved” routines had been established and suddenly our new official “coordinator” declared that he was going home because he had to go to work the next day.
That was it. The beginning, and the end of their efforts. We peeled their decals off our facility, put our own volunteers in place and rode out the storm for the next week providing food, toiletries and a place to sleep.
So much for being in charge of emergencies.
Later, I was to learn, alas too late, that the Red Cross and The Salvation Army have a signed “Statement of Understanding” concerning disasters which gives each party equal and proper authority in these matters. It is signed by Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole and Army National Commander Kenneth Hodder, dated Aug. 12, 1994. (As a member of the Army’s National Advisory Board, I just happen to have a copy in my desk, should anyone care to view this document.)
As soon as the recent Butte fire broke out, the Army mobile canteen – owned and operated here by the Modesto Corps – rolled out of town and established a post to provide emergency meals and supplies to responders and displaced folks alike. Of course, in true Army tradition, we sent out no press releases nor did this make the local news. It is just what we do.
Meanwhile the local TV stations gave the Red Cross a free full day fund-raising telethon, while the Army simply and silently went about its relief work near the fire’s front lines.
In defense of the Red Cross, when there is a local disaster, such as a home fire, they are right there and able to give immediate aid and housing to victims.
However, for them to use large disasters as fund-raising tools is not right. The Army is careful to use every penny donated to assist in the disaster for which the donation was made. The Red Cross does not respect this basic tenet of fund raising, but moves those funds to any other expense area where they have a need. Hurricane Katrina provided a vivid example of this fund swapping and there are other stories.
And, for them to say “give us only money” while suggesting that clothes and other goods go to the Salvation Army or local churches is pretty descriptive of the overall attitude they maintain.
Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.