Janesville33.9°

Red Cross has burning need for more money

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
December 1, 2007
— Natural disasters can become financial disasters.

That’s why the South Central Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross, 211 N. Parker Drive, is trying to avoid that situation by making a plea to the community for donations now.


Since July 1, and only four months into the local chapter’s fiscal year, more than $22,000 has been spent assisting 40 families who have faced 24 disaster incidents.


That compares to 29 incidents for all of the previous year, said Kevin Huddleston, executive director.


It also means there is less than $13,000 left in the annual $35,000 client assistance budget that is part of the overall $142,000 disaster and emergency services program annual budget, Huddleston said.


“I have no doubt that money will be gone before the end of the second quarter,’’ he said.


That’s because the Red Cross exceeded last year’s client assistance budget of $32,000 by about $8,000, Huddleston said.


The families the Red Cross helped since July 1 included those in Rock and Green counties who experienced fires and flooding. Of these, six were multi-unit fires while 14 were single-family fires, Huddleston said.


“It’s a Catch 22,” he said.


“We’re a community-supported organization, and we support the community. We love what we do and are good at what we do, but it’s extraordinarily expensive,” Huddleston said.


Compounding the financial crunch, he said, is that when so many incidents happen at once, “it makes it difficult from an operating (budget) standpoint. The revenue is spread out, but the expense hits all at once.’’


The local Red Cross does have a reserve fund, “but obviously we don’t want to use it unless we have to,” Huddleston said.


Huddleston couldn’t point to any specific reason for the increase and 10-year, record-high number of incidents.


“At this point, I’d be speculating,” he said. “Disasters are notoriously unpredictable.”


Huddleston does know, however, that with the arrival of fall and winter comes the start-up of furnaces, unconventional means of heating homes and more cooking over the holidays; all which could be factors in fires.


Although the Red Cross is facing a budget crunch right now, Huddleston said there would be no cutbacks in programs or services.


“We would dig into our reserves before we let that happen, which would compromise our mission,” he said.


To alleviate the budget crunch, Huddleston said the Red Cross also conducted a donor mailing in November. It will do so again in December to current and potential givers.


“I can guarantee that if people give money and earmark it for local disaster relief, it will remain in a restricted fund and be used for food, shelter, clothing and other living necessities to provide assistance to these people in need.”


When the local Red Cross does use its entire $35,000 client assistance budget, it can start receiving funds from the national organization, Huddleston said.


Meanwhile, the organization is relying on donations of funds from individuals and businesses plus its support from United Way, which Huddleston said is “our largest, single contributor.”


Tips to avoid residential fires

Cooking fires are the No. 1 cause of home fires and fire injuries.


That’s why the American Red Cross offers these fire prevention tips:


-- Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.


-- Keep kids away from cooking areas by enforcignng a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet around the stove.


-- Keep anything that can catch on fire—potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging and towels or curtains—away from your stove top and oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.


-- If you use a turkey fryer, make sure it is outdoors and in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures that could catch on fire and away from moisture that can cause serious burns from steam or splatting hot oil. Also, always follow the manufacturer’s instruction.


-- Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen and use the test button to check it monthly. Replace batteries at least once a year.


(For more information on how to have a happy and fire-safe holiday, visit www.redcross.org/homefires or call your local American Red Cross at (608) 754-4497.)
TO HELP

Donations, earmarked for local disaster relief, can be mailed to the South Central Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross; 211 N. Parker Drive; Janesville, WI 53545.



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