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Red Cross turnaround on donations won't be enough to satisfy critics



Published: Thu, November 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedies, $543 million flowed into the coffers of the American Red Cross, and hundreds of thousands of donors -- many first-timers -- rolled up their sleeves at Red Cross blood banks to make their contribution to those in need. First we heard that the Red Cross was retaining a large portion of the donated funds for future disaster relief rather than sharing the money with the families of victims. And now it turns out that thousands of pints of blood are being discarded because Red Cross officials didn't want to turn donors away.

For decades, many Americans were reluctant to give to the Red Cross because of stories -- many erroneous -- about the way servicemen were treated by the agency during World War II. The fall-out from the decisions made by the Red Cross hierarchy this time around could take decades more to assuage.

Flip-flops: After announcing on Tuesday that money would be returned to any donor who asked for it back, the Red Cross changed direction again, saying yesterday that all the money in the Liberty Fund would be distributed to survivors of the attacks and their families, those with homes damaged in the attacks and those unemployed because their workplaces are in lower Manhattan.

Said Harold Decker, Red Cross interim CEO & quot;We deeply regret that our actions over the last eight weeks have not been as sharply focused as the American public wants or the victims of this tragedy deserve."

As apologies go, that's a bit weak.

Of course, in hindsight Red Cross officials may be back-pedaling furiously to get away from their public relations catastrophe. But it's not as if the organization is new to the business of collecting and allocating funds to those affected by disaster.

So many Americans gave to the charity expecting that their donations would be directly helping those whose lives were scarred by the events of September 11, that its disingenuous for Red Cross executives to suggest that they are only now understanding what the "American public wants or the victims ... deserve."

Disaster relief: Hundreds of thousands of Americans and others around the world have welcomed Red Cross help when catastrophe struck. And millions of Americans have contributed what they could to those relief efforts, confident that their gifts would be used appropriately.

It would be another tragedy if the charitable impulse were curtailed because of bad decisions made in this instance.

Of great danger as well is the concern that blood donations will also abate as donors learn that the Red Cross was forced to discard donated blood because storage facilities were inadequate to deal with the volume of blood collected.

The Red Cross should waste no time in revamping the ways it communicates with regional blood centers around the country and with the public. We would expect that most donors would be much happier to be told to come back to give blood in two or three weeks than to learn afterward that their precious gift had been destroyed,




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