On the night of Dec. 10, Harold Clayton stepped outside his apartment in Leachville, Arkansas to stare at the unusual flickering of lighting filling the night sky. From inside the house, he heard an alert sound on his television, and he ran back inside as his home began to shake. Before he knew what was happening, the windows shattered, and the TV hit the floor. Harold raced to the bathroom to take shelter, just as the tornado ripped open the roof of his home.
I met Harold at the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) at the Leachville Gymnasium a week after the storms tore across multiple states. MARCs are a one-stop-shop where disaster victims can access resources from a variety of agencies providing disaster relief. Harold was accompanied by his granddaughter and his twin sister (“the good looking one”, she told me) who also experienced damage from the storm. They both shared how grateful they were that their lives had been spared, for their children and grandchildren who were quick to their side after the storm, and for the resources and care they’d received at the MARC, including financial assistance from the American Red Cross.
When organizations solicit contributions for their cause, it’s easy to begin the conversation with big numbers that convey the size of the need. I could start by talking about the 28,000 meals and snacks the Red Cross has served across four states following December’s deadly tornadoes, or the 16,700 relief items we’ve distributed. I could begin with the hundreds of people the Red Cross sheltered, and that it costs about $50 to feed and shelter just one person for just one day.
All of those things are true, and perhaps they illustrate the scope of need from a financial standpoint, but they miss what I consider to be the real big picture: that each of those meals was served to a real person like Harold, with his or her own unique circumstances and personal story of surviving that night’s storm. Each shelter resident was someone who spent the night on a cot in a strange place thinking of all they had lost and fearing what the coming weeks, months or even years ahead of them would be like.
The mission of the American Red Cross is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. Following a disaster, we provide food, shelter, relief supplies, health services, emotional and spiritual care, recovery planning and other assistance to help people in their greatest time of need. We serve this mission in ways that extend beyond disasters, by supplying about 40% of the nation’s blood, teaching skills that save lives, supporting military members, veterans and their families, and providing international humanitarian aid.
We rely on the compassion of the public to accomplish this mission, whether through their time as volunteers, their donations of blood or their financial gifts. At the Red Cross, we strive to be cost-conscious in everything we do, so that we can spend more on the individual people who urgently need our services.
In terms of mission-related spending and administrative expenses, the Red Cross compares favorably to other nonprofits and exceeds industry expectations. We are proud to have earned the highest ratings for accountability and transparency from independent nonprofit watchdogs like Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. As an organization that responds to more than 60,000 disasters every year, we know this is important information for our donors as well.
But what matters most to me personally is how much each gift to the Red Cross of time, blood or money means to every person who comes to us for comfort and care. In each one of those 60,000 disasters is a man, woman or child like Harold Clayton who is looking to us for hope.
Editor’s note: Lori Arnold is the Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving Greater Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.