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After Hurricane Isaac, the Red Cross drove empty trucks around to look like they were helping

As massive storms continue to escalate, we’ll need to find ways to provide aid that aren’t such a disaster.

I recently wrote an article on ways to support local organizations working in Houston to provide aid and rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The comments were full of people urging fellow readers not to donate to the Red Cross. And they were absolutely right to do so. But, why is that?

To put it simply: the Red Cross has a terrible track record of providing aid to those in need after disasters strike. From Haiti to Jersey, decade after decade, the most visible aid organization on the planet has done a consistently horrible job in allocating their considerable funding in an adequate way.

In fact, the one group the Red Cross has consistently provided more-than-adequate funding to is itself — with current CEO Gail J. McGovern bringing in over $500,000 per year.

With Hurricane Irma drawing nearer to Florida, newly christened Hurricane Jose in hot pursuit and Katia gathering power in the Gulf, it’s important to stop and recognize all the times the Red Cross has failed before you make that much-needed donation.

The American Red Cross’ response to Hurricane Katrina verged on “criminal wrongdoing”

After Hurricane Katrina, Red Cross was asked for hot meals, water, and juice. Unfortunately, most of what they had on hand was bleach. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you got a banana.

Mike Goodhand, the Head of the International Logistics Division of the British Red Cross wrote reports on his experience with the American Red Cross, which were leaked to the New York Times:

Volunteers driving out into neighborhoods were asked for water and juice but had only bleach on hand.
– Mr. Goodhand

In one of the reports, Mr. Goodhand described a case in which victims in Mississippi, where his team was dispatched, were requesting prepared meals and the only food Red Cross volunteers could offer was bananas.
– The New York Times

Stories just like Goodhand’s above accounts were part of the basis for an investigation into potential criminal misconduct of volunteer managers in the Red Cross. The F.B.I. and Louisiana Attorney General also conducted inquiries.

After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars. They built six homes.

“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”

Out of the hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for “Shelter”, only a very small amount of it went to actually provide shelter to affected peoples. In fact, the Red Cross built six homes and claimed they helped 130,000 people.

A lot of what the Red Cross actually spent its money on were American expatriate workers’ food, fancy lodging, and vacations back to the United States. Many of them couldn’t even speak the language but were being paid over a hundred thousand dollars a year. Haitian engineers, in comparison, were paid a third of that ($42,000).

For each one of those expats, they were having high salaries, staying in a fancy house, and getting vacation trips back to their countries. A lot of money was spent on those people who were not Haitian, who had nothing to do with Haiti. The money was just going back to the United States.
– Shelim Dorval, speaking with ProPublica

Personally, I didn’t know until very recently that my donations to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti paid for jet travel for housing engineers that would only build a few homes.

The Red Cross won’t even say how much of their Hurricane Harvey donations go to providing aid.

In a disconcerting interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, the Vice President of Disaster Operations and Logistics of the American Red Cross couldn’t even say what percentage of donations went to providing aid to disaster victims. Check this shit out:

Chang, NPR Morning Edition: Is that still happening? Such a substantial percentage of donations going to internal administrative costs, rather than to relief?

Kieserman, Red Cross: It’s not something I would have any visibility on. I can talk about what it costs to deliver certain relief services.

Chang: Yeah.

Kieserman: But the way the internal revenue stream works, uhh …

Chang: You don’t know what portion of that amount.

Kierserman: Not really.

Chang: You don’t know what portion of that total amount is for relief.

Kieserman: No, I really don’t. I wish I could answer your question, but it’s not something I have visibility on in the role that I play in this organization.

Once again, that’s the, uhh, Vice President of Disaster Operations and Logistics for the American Red Cross. If he doesn’t have “visibility” on that figure, who does exactly? The question is rhetorical. The organization is a mess.

It’s worth noting that NPR has been trying to secure an interview with Red Cross CEO Gail J. McGovern for years.

And those empty trucks mentioned in the headline? Isaac isn’t the only time they’ve driven those trucks around as little more than P.R. props:

One Red Cross volunteer driver, Jim Dunham, called the organization’s response to Isaac “worse than the storm”. He said in an interview with ProPublica that he was sent to the Gulf “with nothing to give”, and that the iconic trucks he drove were nearly empty, driven “just to be seen”. That’s gut-wrenching, to me.

Also gut-wrenching is knowing that, during Hurricane Sandy, American Red Cross trucks would be pulled away from relief work to be used as props and background for press conferences.

They were not interested in solving the problem — they were interested in looking good. That was incredibly demoralizing.
– Richard Rieckenberg, Red Cross veteran

The thing to remember is that all of these photo ops that so demoralized Mr. Rieckenberg happened as wheelchair-bound individuals sat in their chairs, unmoving and unaided “for days after the 2012 storms”.

Don’t give your money to the Red Cross.

Written by Kelly Mears

Kelly Mears

Kelly is the Technical Director of Other98.

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