Shame on the Red Cross: How the Relief Group Failed on Sandy Relief

Day after day, week after week, the American Red Cross was, quite literally, nowhere to be found. Yet it has raised more than $150 million for Sandy relief alone. That $150 million, or even a part of it, could have transformed the relief effort in the Rockaways. People in the worst-hit areas are asking: where, when, and how has the money been spent?

For 14 days after the hurricane, I worked all over the Rockaways. I only saw Red Cross vehicles twice in two weeks.

The first time there were two white vans. Dazzlingly white. (Most of the relief vehicles, including my own, were filthy and battered. This has been dirty work.) They weren’t at work. They weren’t handing out supplies. They were waiting for Governor Cuomo. For a photo-op.

The only other time, coincidentally, or not coincidentally, was the day before President Obama was in the New York area. This vehicle was a white Prius, clean and sparkling as a new engagement ring. It wasn’t distributing supplies either.

That night, I was told, the Red Cross was handing out hot dogs somewhere. I never saw them. I do know that Red Cross workers asked volunteers for water to hand out, because they didn’t have any themselves—$150 million should buy a few bottles of water.

We have been told that it was difficult for Red Cross vehicles to get gas, and when they got some they got stuck in traffic, etc. All relief workers had the same problems. And yet we got there. Thousands of New Yorkers helping New Yorkers, and some who came from all over the country. We, the people, saved our people. We managed to get gas, and supplies, and distributed them. We sat in the same traffic, sometimes taking as long as three hours to get home. Some of us slept in school gymnasiums, or in abandoned houses in sleeping bags. We worked with local councilmen, school principals, teachers, pastors, community leaders, first-responder rebuilders, residents and volunteers, and everyone said the same thing as Councilman James Sanders’s chief of staff, Donovan Richards, in the middle of an office that was drowning in donated supplies, but bereft of electricity and heat: “The Red Cross? They have been absolutely nowhere. We are the Red Cross.”

This is worse than inadequate. This is not merely “dropping the ball.” To raise all that money and then be invisible on the ground at the time of the greatest need looks very much like fraud.

That is why I, along with others in the vanguard of the relief effort, am asking that the Attorney General open a formal inquiry into the American Red Cross. Similar concerns surfaced after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and disasters in Haiti. The Red Cross owes everyone who trusts it with their money complete transparency. Every dollar should be accounted for.

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