Rash of local emergencies leaves Red Cross disaster fund empty

March 27, 2011

Midway through 2010, Red Cross officials in southern Colorado decided to bump up the upcoming year’s disaster relief budget. They settled on a 20 percent boost.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

With three months remaining in fiscal year 2010-11, the Pikes Peak chapter of the American Red Cross has exceeded its disaster relief budget, said Catherine Nowak, spokeswoman for the local chapter.

Without extra donations, Nowak said, officials are likely to cut back some areas, including its services for military personnel, or health and safety education classes.

First to be scaled back could be an outreach program called “Get to Know Us, Before You Need Us” that lets incoming military families know about Red Cross services.

Expansion plans for a volunteer training program in Pueblo also could be shelved.

“We continue to grow those programs, but if we cannot meet our budget for one area, we have to take from another area,” Nowak said. “In this particular incidence, disaster relief is our primary and most urgent area of need.”

As of Friday, the local American Red Cross chapter had responded to more than 65 house and apartment fires since July 1, 2010, the beginning of the organization’s 2010-11 fiscal calendar. Roughly 335 people have been offered shelter and financial assistance.

That work put the organization roughly $5,000 over its disaster relief budget of $58,000, a gap that’s expected to widen, Nowak said.

The organization, for example, continues to offer assistance to nearly all of the 28 people displaced after a fire tore through the Camelot Apartments in southeast Colorado Springs on Tuesday.

Few expected such a surge, Nowak said.

The previous fiscal year, the local Red Cross chapter finished more than $6,000 below its disaster relief budget of $48,000. The organization responded to 59 incidents that year, helping out 318 people.

Nowak said the organization, which covers 18 counties in southern Colorado, is trying to raise $42,000 through the end of June, in an effort to raise its emergency-aid budget this year to $100,000.

The agency faces competition from its international body, which has solicited donations for recent disasters overseas, including the earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.

But Nowak said volunteers are dealing with a flurry of smaller disasters closer to home. In addition, the prospect of a volatile fire season in southern Colorado has left many on edge.

“While it is wonderful the outpouring and support for the International Red Cross, we have very real needs in our own community,” Nowak said.


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