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The American Red Cross is defending the response to Hurricane Florence after a report it did not deliver food promised to storm victims.
The relief agency has opened shelters, provided meals and health services since the deadly storm swept across the Carolinas. Florence represented a test for the Red Cross, which has faced harsh criticism from public officials following several recent natural disasters.
In a press briefing Tuesday, national leaders said they had received 14 complaints of “unmet needs.”
“We have seen very few reports,” said Brad Kieserman, vice president of operations and logistics. “We have addressed each and every one of those.”
But Kieserman acknowledged the agency made an error when it failed to get 2,000 meals to Garland, a tiny town 80 miles south of Raleigh. Kieserman said a volunteer wrongly promised the food giveaway on Sept. 18 when roads were impassable and made it impossible for trucks to deliver help.
Garland had suffered flooding and power outages when storm victims and others waited for hours at a church in anticipation of food that did not arrive.
Red Cross President and Chief Executive Officer Gail McGovern said Tuesday that she has reached out to thank a business owner whose complaints spread on Facebook that emergency workers and others were left hungry.
Jessica Register, who wrote the Facebook posting that was shared more than 700 times, and her husband, Matthew, run a catering business and restaurant in Garland. They helped organize an effort to feed emergency workers after the Red Cross did not deliver food.
She told the Observer that the Red Cross made a similar mistake in Garland two years ago during Hurricane Matthew.
“The Red Cross has got to do better,” said Register, a 39-year-old schoolteacher and mother of three. “In a hurricane, we need people who say they’re going to do something to come through.”
The Red Cross was chartered by Congress more than 100 years ago and given a unique charge for a non-profit. Even though it is funded almost entirely with private donations, the agency is mandated to work with federal and local government emergency agencies to coordinate emergency response.
When hurricanes hit Texas and Florida last year there were widespread reports alleging the Red Cross failed to deliver basic supplies, provide cash assistance it promised to storm victims and manage shelters.
Houston City Councilman Dave Martin in September 2017 said people should stop donating to the Red Cross and called it the “most inept, unorganized organization I’ve ever experienced,” according to a report from the Dallas Morning News.
For Florence, the Red Cross deployed more than 3,000 volunteers and prepared enough supplies for 60,000 people. Shelters in the Charlotte area closed last week, but roughly 2,000 people remain in shelters across the Carolinas, Kieserman said.
Kieserman said the Red Cross monitors social media and collects reports from government officials to determine when there have been failures. He did not provide details about the “unmet needs” incidents reported in the last 13 days.
“It has been a very successful operation,” said Jerri Jameson, communications manager for the American Red Cross Greater Carolinas Region.
‘Frustration and disappointment’
But when a Red Cross executive visited Garland on Sept. 19, she promised the organization would improve, according to a letter Register sent to McGovern on Monday.
A town of less than 1,000 residents, Garland has one full-service grocery store, which was closed during the storm, Register said. That meant people running low on food and other supplies were relying on the Red Cross, she said.
“People all over are giving you their hard earned money and trusting you to do something good with it,” she wrote in her letter to McGovern. “They are trusting you to be honorable. When those red shirts appear on the scene, they expect you to be a relief to those who are experiencing devastation, not the cause of more frustration and disappointment.”
Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027; @fred_ckelly