Friday, November 9, 2012

Joe--Don’t Confuse Red Cross Invisibility with Inactivity, Inertia or Indifference

Mr. Scarborough,

Earlier today I watched your interview on “Morning Joe,” with Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY) where you discussed the pain and suffering of your friends in Staten Island (like my friends and co-workers in Staten Island). You went on to address your perceived failures by the Red Cross both now and in the past, asking, “You'll make sure that the Red Cross does their job that they make the right decisions that they won't store it all in warehouses away from places and then re-sell it the way they did in Katrina?" I am a volunteer for American Red Cross and have been since 2003. I have supported disaster responses during fires, nor’easters, floods, a tsunami, an oil spill, terrorist attacks, 2 earthquakes and I have personally deployed during hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Gustav, Ivan, Irene, Isaac and now Sandy. I think after watching Red Cross get lambasted multiple times on multiple levels,  it is time to clarify for you, and for all media the reality of what Red Cross is doing, what their role is, what their core values are and what their role isn’t—Particularly in addressing the most recent disasters.

First of all, the reason it took three days is the Red Cross to get to Staten Island is that during a Hurricane and afterwards, the Outerbridge Crossing, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the W Shore Expressway were impassable and the ferries were not in condition to run in flooding waters and rapid waves. The added issues geographically and logistically were transportation of the volunteers.  Like the majority of New Yorkers who are not wealthy, most get wherever they are going by mass transit, so deployment became complicated and delayed, while they were dealing with their own power outages, damaged apartments, etc. Despite this, many with extreme effort could and did get themselves to the different shelter sites and for no compensatory goals, provided the basic human needs that the Red Cross purview includes. They are not high paid people who are pocketing donor funds and disappearing to the Cayman Islands or gambling it in casinos, etc.

Despite these limitations, more than 5,800 disaster workers have been sent to the affected areas and since Saturday, October 27, 2012, shelters have provided more than 110,000 overnight stays and there are more than 60,600 people in Red Cross shelters. The Red Cross has served more than 3.2 million meals and provided health services for more than 27,500 people in response to Sandy. 96 percent of us are voluntarily donating our time (after doing our daily jobs, or on some occasions like mine, taking personal leave at my own expense by the way); the remaining 4 percent work for an average salary of between 40 and 50K, do so on call 24/7 and work more than 60 hours per week on average for that salary. So even the few who are paid staff are just as overextended, stressed and as worn out and unhappy about the pace of the recovery as you, Staten Island borough president James Molinaro and Senator Schumer are. However, nobody at American Red Cross is even wired to try to shaft the people affected, the government or the donors. In fact, the majority of volunteers that you see at these deployments spend an average of 50 to 100 dollars of their own money for the gear you see them wearing and pay their own expenses for anything above the same rations, cot and a blanket that the clients receive.
So when you feel the need to make sure that the Red Cross does our job and makes the right decisions, try to keep in mind that after the current 2-3 week deployments of the 5,800 on the ground now, several thousand will be re-deployed again and again in the same conditions for no compensation other than the reward that comes from enabling a person that has lost everything and experienced incredible trauma on multiple levels. You can also be assured that the reward that comes from that is in and of itself sufficient to keep the thousands of Red Cross volunteers continuing to respond, and continuing to give what we can. We do this because it allows us to deeply improve a person’s life, which is a true gift that most of us appreciate enough to even take the bashing we get from people we help, agencies we work alongside, local officials that claim “all these people making these big salaries, these big salaries, should be out there on the front line.”  Frankly, I was on the front line.  So were other volunteers, but like any scenario where there are multiple front lines covering an area of nearly 200 miles North to South and 200 miles from the Atlantic inland. From New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, DC and Virginia among others, whether you saw us or not, we were there and we are there now.