Red Cross reaps donors and critics
Negatives focus on past responses to disasters
NEW YORK — Confronted with back-to-back major hurricanes, the American Red Cross has received a huge outpouring of financial support — and a simultaneous barrage of criticism based on its struggles to respond to several past disasters.
To date, combined donations to the Red Cross for hurricanes Harvey and Irma have topped $300 million. Former President Barack Obama tweeted a link to a Red Cross fundraising site. Many pro sports teams, celebrities and major corporations have announced large donations.
Yet even in the early stages of the response to Harvey in Texas, a Noredcross hashtag circulated widely on Twitter. Some prominent journalists wrote articles suggesting that people should not donate to the organization. The New York Times, in an editorial, urged prospective donors to be skeptical.
“Its record on large-scale operations is spotty,” said the editorial, asserting that “there has been less accountability than Americans might expect emanating from its grand marble headquarters in Washington.”
The criticism has been stinging to Red Cross volunteers, many of whom have taken to social media to rebut the negative commentary.
“I worry that our volunteers need to feel appreciated,” Red Cross President Gail Mcgovern said in a telephone interview. “After 12-hour shifts, they come back to their hotel really exhausted. They don’t want to read this stuff.”
Some local officials in Texas and Florida have complained about glitches in the Red Cross response to Harvey and Irma, while others have expressed thanks. But much of the current mistrust of the Red Cross arises from the aftermath of other major disasters over the past 16 years.
After the 2001 terror attacks, the Red Cross irked many donors by earmarking some 9/11 gifts for unrelated purposes, including future needs. It was widely criticized for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and afterward acknowledged problems that included overwhelmed volunteers, inadequate anti-fraud measures and too few strong partnerships with local charities and civic groups.
The Associated Press file Thomas Lairsey, 71, and his wife Ann, 67, move into the Red Cross shelter at the Albany Civic Center to ride out Hurricane Irma on Sunday in Albany, Ga. After confronting back-to-back major hurricanes, the American Red Cross has received a huge outpouring of financial support — and a simultaneous barrage of criticism.