The American Red Cross has received widespread support after Superstorm Sandy, and along with those contributions have come questions—including in stories that have run on The Daily Beast—about how those donations are being put to use, and what we’re going to do with the remaining funds. These are legitimate questions, and the Red Cross is committed to transparency and welcomes this opportunity to answer them.
In my more than four-and-a-half years at the Red Cross, I’ve been no stranger to disasters, whether tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes. But what struck me was the massiveness of Sandy’s fury, the miles and miles of devastation that just seemed endless.
The destruction wrought by Sandy also had a personal element for me: I grew up and spent most of my life in the New York/New Jersey area, and my heart goes out to all those affected by the storm. While I have been to the impacted areas several times since Sandy hit, I will never get used to looking into the eyes of someone who lost everything. At the same time, I am also struck by the determination of these individuals to start over, rebuild, and power through their loss.
So how exactly are we helping them? While the American Red Cross is a grassroots network of local chapters and volunteers, the sheer size of Sandy required us to bring people and resources from all over the country to help our chapters in New York and New Jersey. Over the past seven weeks, we have mobilized more than 15,800 trained workers, 90 percent of whom are volunteers. We have also worked closely with other nonprofit and government partners, because a disaster this size is too big for any one organization to handle.
This is the biggest U.S. response we have mounted in over five years. Even before Sandy hit, we opened shelters across multiple states, and we have been providing help every day since. So far, we have:
• Served more than 8.9 million meals and snacks.
• Handed out more than 6.7 million relief items such as cold-weather items and clean-up supplies.
• Provided more than 103,000 health services and emotional-support contacts for people living in very tough conditions.
• Supplied more than 81,000 shelter stays, more than half of the total number of Sandy shelter stays (158,000) provided by a range of groups.
And we still have much more work to do.
Of the $202 million in donations and pledges we have received to date, we believe that approximately $110 million of that will be spent on our emergency-relief operations by the end of December. Remaining Sandy-related donations will be used by the Red Cross to meet longer-term needs—what we call “recovery”—of people affected by this disaster.
Our initial recovery efforts are expected to cost at least $60 million; any remaining funds will be allocated to additional long-term efforts. We have developed a recovery plan by working closely with other nonprofits and government agencies—including FEMA—to coordinate efforts and identify unmet needs.
While I have been to the impacted areas several times since Sandy hit, I will never get used to looking into the eyes of someone who lost everything.
Our federal government partners have requested that we focus our assistance first on three groups of people who have already been identified as needing aid:
• People in New York and New Jersey whose homes were destroyed and are in need of either repair assistance or longer-term rental housing;
• People whose homes were destroyed in states which did not receive federal disaster money;
• People with demonstrated needs that exceed what can be met by insurance, FEMA, and state resources.
This means that part of our efforts over the next several months will involve one-on-one work helping those who have trouble finding assistance on their own. These are the types of activities a survivor doesn’t want to go through alone, and we can provide the expertise, as well as a shoulder to lean on during the process. That includes helping people fill out insurance paperwork, identify child-care resources, find new housing, and connect with social services in their communities.
In addition, we also will be supporting projects and programs of other nonprofit groups in the New York and New Jersey area, such as working with several local food banks to help Sandy survivors have access to food during the new year.
It is the generous support of so many people and businesses across the country have enabled us to bring help and hope to tens of thousands of people impacted by Sandy. We are committed to being good stewards of these contributions entrusted to us—and we will be there for the survivors of this devastating storm as they fight for their future.