Monday, March 21, 2011

My Red Cross story

This is a hard post for me to write.  I’ve avoided it for two years, talking around the subject while not actually addressing it.  The Japanese earthquake has unfortunately kicked me over the edge. 


The night of August 25, 2008, was obviously one of the most difficult of my life.  I learned within a matter of minutes that everything – EVERYTHING – was gone.  We were directed to the local elementary school where we thought we’d be given information.  Instead, there was a television and some pizza and a few volunteers helping us find a place to sit around a cafeteria table.  And in the gym, some cots (which I don’t think anyone ended up using). 

There was actually very little information provided at the school, and, other than the pizza, we were offered nothing.  I hate to sound ungrateful (especially because SO many people were so generous over the next days and weeks), but I expect an organization that claims to specialize in disaster relief to provide SOMETHING in the immediate aftermath.  Where was a grief counselor?  A man lost his wife.  What about a bag filled with toiletries since we had none?  Or some clothes in a few different sizes (even a Red Cross t-shirt that fit would have been welcomed)? 

We were asked repeatedly in that night and then a week or so later what we needed.

YOU ARE THE F*ING RED CROSS.  Aren’t you supposed to have an idea of what’s needed?  I lost everything.  All I was trying to do was hold it together long enough to get to the birth of my son.  I didn’t know what I needed, quite frankly.  I needed everything.

It wasn’t the Red Cross that brought water in coolers for the friends, family, and strangers who helped us sort through our things.  It was local people who went out of their way to make sure our needs were met.  There were no masks, no shovels.  We purchased buckets and buckets to sift through our things, buckets that now are taking up space in our garage with little use at this point. 

Nearly two weeks after the fire, Red Cross volunteers met with each of the families to ask what we needed.  Again, you are the Red Cross.  We told them I had been waking up nightly screaming and that I needed counseling.  We had so little energy and resources to seek out a therapist, even though it’s well known that getting mental health assistance immediately following a trauma is the best way to prevent it from becoming more entrenched PTSD.  Do you think we heard from a counselor?  No.  When we told one of the other non-affiliated volunteers what had happened, she called and complained, and that’s when we did hear from someone, weeks after the fire.  By that point it was too late.

What really pisses me off is that my name was used to fundraise.  Donate to the Red Cross to help the victims of the Oregon Trail Heights Fire.  But they actually didn’t help.  The only assistance we really saw was that from the Burn Out fund (we love you) and community members who stepped up on their own to be our guardian angels (Chip and Patti and so many others).  And yet, everywhere we looked there was the Red Cross taking donations under the guise of disaster relief for the victims of our fire.  For US.

To make matters worse, this was brought to the attention of the local chapter of the Red Cross by one of the volunteers.  Instead of contacting us and talking about how we felt about the whole thing (or even getting some advice as to what they might have done differently for future disasters), we got a letter informing us of what was done, which I have detailed above.  To them, that was enough. 

I am SURE the Red Cross does great things.  I am sure that they are helping in some way in Japan and that they helped with Haiti and in New Orleans.  I have to believe that.  But I am jaded by my own personal experience.  I have read numerous articles questioning how the Red Cross spends its relief money, and I know I am not the only one who has a story like this to share (because I’ve been talking to people privately about this over the last few weeks). 

And I’ve been trying to decide how I was going to address this… and whether to even share my story.  What tipped me over the edge was the woman at Kellen’s Montessori school putting up a donation box to collect money “for Japanese relief efforts.”  I wanted to ask them how they knew that the money would actually help those in Japan or if, like us, the Red Cross is using another tragedy to stock their general fund.  I wish I knew of a local organization in Japan to donate to instead as I am certain that aid is needed.  Because I don’t, I am choosing to donate to local organizations, who help out in disasters that are equally as traumatizing but do not garner international media.  It’s the only way to ensure I know where my money is being spent, and, as a donor, that matters to me. 

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