The Disgrace of the American Red Cross

Mississippi has been hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and the American Red Cross is providing shelter, supplies, and meals and doing a great job with that part. Why then I am saying they are a disgrace? Because the financial aid centers and phone center are a disgrace at least to those in Mississippi. I don't know about the situation in Louisiana but I do know about it in Mississippi.

The different financial centers set up by the Red Cross in different cities along the Mississippi Coast are only set up to help between 200-300 people a day. There are only five or six such centers.

For the past ten days, I have been trying to get through to 1-800 number set up by the Red Cross for financial assistance. I have received nothing but busy signals until today. I was overjoyed to hear the phone ringing. That joy soon turned to anger. The message I received was insensitive and frustrating. The message basically said they had too many calls coming in and a few seconds I would hear a busy signal and to hang up and try again. In other words they are hanging up on me and others who are seeking financial assistance due to lack of jobs, the destruction of homes, etc.

I called the Red Cross headquarters and was treated very abrasively and felt like I was being told to get lost. He said they were handling 100,000 calls a day. I responded that I was pretty sure the Red Cross was getting that many calls from people wanting to donate and there didn't seem to be problems with getting the necessary phone operators and telephone lines for that. I asked why they couldn't set up registration on line. He said it would take three times as long to do it that way. Bullshit. He said he couldn't help me and I asked him to get me someone who could. I was given the brush off.

UPDATE: 9/18/05 I am not the only one:

Laura Williams, who said it was the fifth day in a row she had "gotten the runaround," said she'd been dialing the American Red Cross toll-free number for days and all she got was a busy signal.

Getting through takes persistence, but many are doing so.

Winnie Romeril, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, said Saturday afternoon the organization had 700 operators staffing that toll-free number - 1-800-975-7585 - and on Saturday alone, they had taken 12,500 calls. Calls since the number went active reportedly total 321,000.Sun Herald

On Saturday, they are bragging about taking 12,500 calls. Does that mean people that were actually helped or the total number of calls that were received? Does that total include the number of people that got that message that they were overwhelmed by the number of calls and then hung up on? I know one thing, if this had been a federal agency, the news media would be hounding it to death, but since certain government officials can't be blamed, unless you are in the middle of the devestation zone, you won't hear too much about it. I was able to reach FEMA with no problem other than the fact I did not qualify for any help other than Major Disaster Unemployment. You have to go through the Mississippi Unemployment Office to receive that. Nor did I run into any problems contacting the unemployment office even though the phones in Jackson Mississippi can be just as unreliable as the ones on the Coast. So what gives?

The people of the United States of America are so compassionate and want to help. The amount donated to the Red Cross was unprecedented. Think about it. The Red Cross has released this 800 number since the first week of the storm. Since then, they have repeatedly said they would be getting more phone lines and operators. So 20 days after Katrina hit, they are still promising more phone lines and operators? Can you imagine what it must feel like for someone who has lost their home, their job, and with just the clothes on their back, hearing that message from the Red Cross?

I know the number of people who need help is staggering. But the message that I got yesterday was so disheartening and then to be hung up on was infuriating. At least FEMA tells you nicely what your wait time will be and then gives you the options of holding or hanging up and trying again later. I hate to say it, but the Federal government and the Mississippi state government has been a lot more compassionate than the Red Cross in this matter.


Blogger Mark said...

Wow. Glad I didn't donate to those assholes. Their past history of such behavior is why. I hope you get somewhere soon.

7:32 PM  
Anonymous seawitch said...

I sent an e-mail to the Washington Post about this. maybe if they write about it, something well get done. Meanwhile, I have poured myself a nice big glass of a good Italian Pinot Noir and am getting drunk as suggested by my brother Vince.

And I stopped contributing to the American Red Cross and knwo when I can, contribute to the Jewish Distribution Committe.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous seawitch said...

Ps, Am on my second glass now. The wine was the only I was able to salvage from my refrigerator when I had to throw everything else away after the the fourth day without power. Since I don't drink alcoholic beverages very often, I can honestly say i am pleasantly drunk now. Cheers!!

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Felis said...

Dear Seawitch,
I hope you are OK.
It was terrible to learn about all these natural and man made disasters in your parts of the world.
I have to go through all your posts and that'll take me a while.
I returned not so long ago and and now I am trying to catch up with the news, gossip and all that.
I am afraid it mostly bad news.
Good to see your site up an running.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

Seawitch, that is horrible! I'm distressed by the Red Cross since 9/11 shennanigans. But before that, when my apartment building had its fire, they were there and they were incredible. I don't know what I would have done without them. Maybe they're only good in a small crisis?

9:38 PM  
Anonymous seawitch said...


I hope you enjoyed your trip but I am in withdrawal due to the fact you didn't POST anything while away. Thanks for your kind words.


I have never in my life had to ask for any assistance other than a brief time after my divorce. I have never had to ask for assistance from groups such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, so I don't know. It was a very callous and infuriating message.

2:12 AM  
Anonymous SK said...

Seawitch...perhaps when you have more time you could do a post about the Jewish Distribution Committee. I am unfamiliar with them and I do not donate to the Red Cross anymore so would like to know of a good place to help. I have been very leery of donating through religious organizations because some have been known to only help people of their faith. That is not why I donate, my money is nondenominational:) So, this time I chose Soldiers Angels to help the returning NG and then followed your link and will donate to the Retired Vets that were displaced. I may also donate to your address regarding fire/police as my nieces husband is one of the AZ firefighters currently in NO.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous seawitch said...


As far as I know, the Jewish Distribution Committee helps all. I chose them in memory of my Dad. The Soldier's Angel Katrina Relief fund is one that I support also and wish I could donate too at this time.

I feel so proud of the good work that our police officers and firemen have done and the many who came from all the different states to help out. Yesterday, I saw some work being done on the roof of one the police officers. We are pulling together as best as we can to help each other out.

6:22 AM  

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