ROCKAWAY PARK — Noreen Ellis begged the American Red Cross for help a few days after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the US East Coast.
A 90-year-old bedbound woman living on Ellis’s block needed to be moved from the Rockaways, an eight-mile long, narrow spit of land in New York City, to a shelter with heat and electricity.
“I said, ‘This woman needs to be transported. Can you help?’ And the Red Cross said, ‘We don’t do that’,” Ellis said.
She shot back: “What does the Red Cross do?”
Ellis’s frustration, echoed by many residents in the places worst hit by Sandy across the New York region, exposed a gulf between what many people expected the charity to do in times of crisis and what it actually delivers.
In interviews with public officials and Red Cross staff, as well as first responders from other aid organisations, it has become clear the Red Cross was hampered by the sheer magnitude of the disaster, by its decision to position supplies and staff well outside the areas likely to be hardest hit by the storm, and by misperceptions about what kinds of relief it would provide in New York City.
The sense of letdown is all the more stark because the Red Cross, the fifth-largest charity in the United States by private donations, is viewed by many as the place to donate money when there is a major disaster at home or abroad. It has raised nearly $120 million since Sandy – spending about $40 million of that so far.
Importantly, the Red Cross has been designated by the US Congress as the only non-governmental entity with the responsibility “to lead and coordinate efforts to provide mass care, housing, and human services after disasters that require federal assistance”, according to a 2006 congressional review. (Reuters)