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San Diego
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Nonprofits Local Red Cross funding called into question

Money Raised for Alpine Fire Victims Added to Pool For Future Relief Efforts

Although the local chapter of the American Red Cross said $400,000 was donated during the time of the Alpine fire in January, one official said only $185,000 was designated for fire victims.

That’s not to say the Red Cross wouldn’t spend $400,000 to meet the needs of the Alpine victims if it were necessary. But according to Sue Irey, a spokeswoman for the local office, that much money isn’t needed.

“That fire looked like it would be a fire of ultimate destruction,” Irey said. “But it only destroyed six houses.

“It’s fair to say that it won’t take all $400,000.”

So far, Irey said the San Diego-Imperial County chapter of the nonprofit disaster relief agency has spent about $160,000 to recover from the Alpine fire. She said the books are still open and they are still assessing victims’ needs.

That accounting didn’t satisfy county Supervisor Dianne Jacob and some Alpine fire victims who have complained to her office.

Jacob has accused the local chapter of using the Alpine fire victims to raise money for the chapter.

Jacob sent a letter to Red Cross National President Bernadine Healy asking for an investigation into the fund-raising practices of the local chapter. In her letter, Jacob said damage to the area was nearly $2 million. She also said the fire destroyed six homes, but also listed destruction of 15 trailers, 65 outbuildings and 57 vehicles.

Funding For Victims

Jacob, who represents the 2nd District, which includes the bulk of the East County, including Alpine, said it was clear the money contributed to the Red Cross in a short period of time surrounding the fire was intended to assist those victims.

“After learning how much money was collected during the fire, several victims contacted me to express their frustration over the lack of immediate assistance from the Red Cross,” Jacob said.

According to the local chapter’s budget, they spent:

– $34,340 to operate two shelters;

– $19,913 to provide meals;

– $25,068 to manage an emergency operations center for 72 hours;

– $23,897 to operate six emergency vehicles;

– $7,788 in administrative costs;

– $1,694 to process donations;

– $46,881 to provide meals, lodging, clothing, furniture, medications and occupational supplies like tools to families.

Irey said the rest of the $400,000 went to the chapter’s local disaster relief fund to assist others throughout the year.

Jacob said during a meeting she hosted with some victims and the Red Cross, there was testimony from fire victims who asked for and didn’t receive clothing or assistance with overnight housing from the Red Cross.

Meeting Needs

Jacob also questioned the Red Cross’ accounting of how much they spent on food and the shelters. She said most of the food was sent by area restaurants, and some of the shelters were at area schools.

“The victims who were hardest hit felt that their immediate needs were not met by the Red Cross,” Jacob said. “Many victims felt they were victimized by the current Red Cross practice.”

Jacob said the chapter’s method of receiving funds is deceptive to donors.

“Most people when they donate to a disaster feel their money will go to the victims of that disaster,” she said. “How many people know that they have to specifically put on their check that their money should go to those victims? Most people don’t.”

In a response to Jacob’s letter, national president Healy indicated in a letter and in a phone call to the supervisor that an investigation will be conducted on the local chapter’s uses of funds and response to the fire victims.

Jacob said Healy didn’t provide a timeline of when that investigation will be complete, but said she was satisfied with Healy’s quick response.

The supervisor said she is still waiting for a line-by-line breakdown from the local chapter of how they spent the donated funds.

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