Disasters on the global stage have eclipsed needs at home, and area Red Cross staffers say donations have taken a hit. This year people have donated to the crises in Haiti and Chile and already had less to give because of the weak economy.
Fundraising is a challenge, said Connie Hensler, executive director of the Troup County-Valley Area chapter of the Red Cross based in LaGrange.
“It’s tougher,” she said. “It’s tough on all nonprofits. No one has as much to give, but the needs are still there.”
With a goal of $40,000, the chapter kicked off its “Heroes” fundraising campaign this month.
Mitzi Oxford, development director for the West Central Georgia Red Cross chapter in Columbus, said donations were down because of the recession anyway. Just as her organization was getting its holiday direct mail campaign started, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.
“A lot of donations that would have come in to support us went to Haiti,” Oxford said. “And I understand that. You can’t see that level of devastation everyday and not do anything. That was the right thing to do.”
Still, the Red Cross depends on donations from the community, as well as the support of the United Way.
“This is a time when we’re struggling” Oxford said, adding her chapter has formed a strategic planning committee, charged with figuring out ways to sustain the chapter in the long term. “In spite of us going through financial struggles, there are people every day that are going to depend on us.”
With March being Red Cross month, it’s an opportunity for the organization to thank supporters and share its mission.
The Red Cross wears many hats, although Oxford and other Red Cross personnel noted people are often unaware the major role the organization plays in their own backyard.
The West Central Georgia chapter serves eight counties including the Columbus area. Last April, the group walked door to door making sure people were OK after a tornado tore through midtown Columbus.
Perhaps one of Red Cross’ largest responsibilities is helping families after a house fire. Oxford said with the bad economy she’s seen an increase in fires. The role the Red Cross plays during those disasters is essential, she said.
“The firefighters come in and put the fire out. The Red Cross is the one that comes right behind them,” she said, adding they provide families with food, water, blankets and even teddy bears.
The West Central Georgia Red Cross also has an office on Fort Benning and works closely with military personnel, and their families providing support in various ways.
The Troup County-Valley Area chapter of the Red Cross serves Troup and Heard counties in Georgia and Chambers County, Ala. Hensler has been addressing community groups as part of Red Cross Month.
Hensler also said the role the local Red Cross plays after house fires is critical.
“You don’t see a lot of publicity from those fires,” she said. They don’t receive the attention that global emergencies do, but for the families who have just lost their home, it’s devastating.
Hensler said her organization secures a place for the family to go, finds food for them to eat and clothes for them to wear. Her Red Cross chapter also helps to facilitate communication with military members and their families, and organizes local blood drives.