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Fires leave Red Cross hurting for cash

February 13, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Though it is in the business of helping others during crises, the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross is experiencing a problem of its own and is asking the public for financial assistance.

Director Cindy Blackstock Kline said the organization has spent $17,655 of the $20,000 budgeted for local disasters for the 2000 budget year, which ends June 30.

The Red Cross has responded locally to 16 fires this budget year, helping 32 families and a total of 92 people, she said.

Most recently, the Red Cross provided vouchers for food and clothing for the Reilly and Smith families who were displaced in a George Street fire Jan. 31.

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Kline said she expects future expenses, including helping those families furnish new homes, will cost $4,000 or more, putting the agency's disaster relief budget in the red.

"We're getting a little frantic," said Kline.

Kline said it's been two or three years since Washington County has had such a high number of fires in which families have had such large losses.

She isn't sure how much money will be needed for disaster relief since there is no way to predict what disasters may strike, Kline said.

Donations of any amount will help, she said.

"The people in Washington County are so generous, we know that if we make them aware of our situation they will respond," said Kline.

Otherwise, the agency may have to conduct additional fund-raisers, she said.

Donations can be designated for disaster relief and sent to the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross at 113 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown, MD 21740.

"(The Red Cross is) an invaluable resource," said Mike Weller, Hagerstown Fire Department Life Safety Educator. He praised the agency's quick response to disaster scenes and tireless efforts for the victims.

"They do a tremendous job and take the burden off us," by caring for the needs of the victims so firefighters can concentrate on putting out a blaze, he said.

The Red Cross is a United Way-funded agency, but United Way funds are not directly designated for local disaster relief, Kline said. The organization relies on the public for disaster-relief funds, she said.

Unlike such charitable organizations as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, the Red Cross does not accept donations of clothing or furniture, said Kline.

"We are not set up for that. We don't have the storage or means of cleaning the clothes," she said.

Sometimes generous Washington County residents get the organizations confused and she is forced to turn down such contributions, she said.

At a disaster scene, such as a fire or flood, Red Cross representatives provide for the victim's immediate needs such as shelter, food, clothing and medicine, if necessary.

Follow-up care is provided in some cases and can include purchasing furniture, bedding and food for new homes.

Vouchers for new clothing from the Red Cross provide more than clothes, she said.

"It aids our clients in recovering emotionally. In many cases people have lost everything and that can be devastating," she said. "They are entitled to be able to buy their own clothes, in their own sizes in styles they like."

Debbie Smith, who lost clothing, some furniture, bedding and other items in the George Street fire, said the Red Cross has been a big help.

"They were wonderful with everything," said Smith, who is temporarily staying with family. "It's really hard to rebuild your life and we appreciate what they've done."

Other Red Cross programs include blood donations, service to military families and transportation for veterans.

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