Local, National Red Cross Funding Shortfall

Red Cross volunteers from around the country are on alert. They're getting ready to move in to those areas that will be hit by Hurricane Isabel. But the organization is also in need. Yesterday, the Red Cross announced it's broke. The agency blames the economy, too many disasters and not enough money coming in. The disaster relief fund is at its lowest point ever.

"So why is the disaster relief fund empty? It's because of 'silent disasters,'" explained Marsha Evans, CEO of the American Red Cross. "Every eight minutes, the Red Cross is on the scene responding to an emergency. Whether it's a house fire or a hurricane, the Red Cross is there. Whether you give a dollar or a thousand dollars, you become part of the Red Cross disaster team."

Right here at home, the American Red Cross is also feeling the financial pressure. The head of the Savannah chapter says it fell $300,000 short last year. But they'll do whatever is necessary to continue to meet the community's needs.

"This is really a time, if you've given $20 in the past, to consider 25 or 30 in your donation," said Rick Walter, CEO of the Red Cross' Savannah chapter. He says locally, donations are down 15 percent. That money allows the Red Cross to help local families forced out of their homes by fire and other disasters. The Savannah chapter assisted more than 300 families displaced by fire last year. Walter says now, they'll step up their fundraising efforts to avoid cutting services.

"We will continue to meet the commitment we make to our neighbors," said Walter.

"In the days following the September 11 attacks of 2001, Americans gave generously to the American Red Cross. In the last year, donations have dropped, but the need has not. As Walter told us, "The need has not gone away. In fact, it's just the opposite. As there are layoffs, there's an increased need for organizations like the American Red Cross and the agencies of the United Way."

If you would like to make a donation to the American Red Cross Savannah chapter, call (912) 651-5323. You can also drop off or mail your donations to: The American Red Cross, 422 Habersham Street, Savannah, Georgia 31410. Please specify if your donation is for the Savannah chapter of the American Red Cross or the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. To donate directly to the Disaster Relief Fund, call 1-800-HELP-NOW or go to www.redcross.org.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com