I don’t want to take away anything from the great work that Red Cross does. In the immediate response to a crisis, they are the first ones we always turn to. They set up evacuation centres, provide cots, food and other essentials, they register evacuees on behalf of government, they are instrumental in helping to get emergency debit cards in the hands of evacuees, among many other roles. They have a well-trained and broad network of volunteers who know how to treat people with care and compassion. They usually have to continue this work on for several days, or even several weeks, and they require significant resources to do so. I have no doubt the money they spend in the immediate aftermath of the Fort McMurray fires will be money well spent.
But when Red Cross announced today that they have already received $54 million, with more money to come from matching provincial and federal grants, it is time to say they have received enough. We need to turn our attention, and our generosity, to supporting other local charities that will be needed to help rebuild the community after reentry and over the coming years.
It has been noted in news stories that the Red Cross still has $30 million left over from the Haiti earthquake from 5 years ago. After raising $43 million in the Southern Alberta floods, one year later they still had $15 million in the bank. There is no point in massively overcontributing to Red Cross for Fort McMurray relief when there are so many local charities in greater need.
One thing to remember is Red Cross does not operate like United Way. When you give money to United Way, they regift it to partner agencies to deliver services. When you donate to Red Cross, they use the money for Red Cross programs. This is excellent for the immediate disaster response. But who is best to spend money to rebuild communities and support local citizens during the rebuild? I would argue it is the local charities that operate in those communities.
In an analysis done by Kate Bahen of Charity Intelligence, in the past the Red Cross only flowed through about 2 per cent of the dollars they received to local charities. Yet there is no question that the Fort McMurray SPCA is going to need contributions to help support displaced pets while owners rebuild or renovate their homes. The Fort McMurray Food Bank is going to need to restock their shelves. The Fort McMurray Salvation Army is going to have to source clothing, furniture and other necessaries of life for families who have lost everything. The Fort McMurray United Way will be able to identify a myriad of human needs we probably haven’t even considered. If you want to help these groups, you have to donate to them directly. Here are some more ideas on local charities you can support: https://www.charityintelligence.ca/fort-mcmurray-fires.
Once this crisis is over, let’s all vow to keep an eye on how much money the Red Cross has spent and how much they have left over. Canadians quite clearly have donated money to benefit the residents of Fort McMurray. If Red Cross ends up taking in more than they need, we should all be pressing them transfer funds to local charities to finish the job.