- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

A few lawmakers from regions that have taken in thousands of hurricane evacuees are frustrated that the American Red Cross hasn’t helped out more with private organizations, churches and local governments that are sheltering survivors.

One congressman said people should consider donating their money to other groups.

Rep. Jim McCrery, Louisiana Republican, said only six of the 40 shelters in his district are Red Cross shelters, while the rest are run by civic groups, town governments, churches, private citizens and others. The Red Cross will help out only Red Cross shelters, he said, and the other shelters have struggled to raise money for food and supplies.

“So if you want to help, Red Cross is not necessarily the best way to help, to put it mildly,” Mr. McCrery said at a Wednesday morning press conference.

He later clarified: “I just want people to know there are other organizations that are trying to help, so people might want to give their donations to other organizations as well as the Red Cross.”

Mr. McCrery, who represents the Shreveport area, said the Salvation Army and United Way will give supplies and assistance to nonaffiliated shelters. He said the Red Cross denied mattresses to one shelter in his district, but he heard that the United Way would provide them.

Most of the shelters in his district are making do with supplies, Mr. McCrery said, but struggled tremendously last week and face shortages again. “If you give to Red Cross … about 85 percent of the shelters in my district don’t get any help,” he said.

Other lawmakers cited similar problems.

“The problem we’re having is that the Red Cross won’t help if it’s not an established Red Cross shelter,” said Rep. Rodney Alexander, a Republican representing the 5th District in northeastern Louisiana.

He said the problem is not as apparent as in Mr. McCrery’s district, but worried about the future. Some organizations have sunken into notable debt trying to help the evacuees, he said. One group of county commissioners, called a police jury in Louisiana, has accrued $28,000 in debt, he said.

The Red Cross didn’t return calls yesterday.

The organization is operating 650 shelters in 17 states and has received $485 million in gifts and pledges as of Wednesday.

Amy Jones, district director for Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., who represents the 7th District in southern Louisiana, said the Red Cross has sent staff to assist in some nonaffiliated shelters in his district.

“Red Cross has done their best to try and be there as much as they could and when they couldn’t, private organizations have stepped up,” she said, adding that she feels the Red Cross has “done a fantastic job” in the 7th District.

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