The statistics are staggering, colossal, unbelievable. In less than one month after Hurricane Katrina made landfall the American Red Cross (ARC) had already provided financial assistance of various types to more than 2.2 million survivors (an estimated 688,000 families), housed almost 400,000 evacuees in hotels and motels throughout 48 states and Washington, D.C., and—working in close coordination with the Southern Baptist Convention—served more than 15 million hot meals to evacuees and other hurricane survivors. That is just a partial list of the many ways the more than 165,000 ARC employees and volunteers who responded to Katrina helped, and are still helping, the battered and beleaguered citizens of the Gulf Coast states. The collective cost of these good works, the ARC estimates, will be well over $2 billion—a sum 20 times greater than the cost of the organization’s hurricane-relief efforts for all of 2004. There are several reasons why the ARC scored so many successes—particularly noteworthy at a time when local, state, and federal officials and agencies were obviously less prepared than they should have been and as a result made numerous mistakes. The first reason, in addition to the organization’s decades of experience in dealing with natural and manmade disasters of all types, is that the ARC always prepares–well in advance, not after the fact—for the worst-case scenario. It also has its priorities right: It puts the victims first, with everything else a distant second. Finally, it has learned through the years the need for cooperation not only with government agencies at all levels but also with a broad spectrum of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Even before Katrina hit, the ARC had signed over 80 formal memorandums of understanding with other NGOs, and with a growing number of business partners. Despite its numerous duties and responsibilities, the ARC is a remarkably efficient organization—one that might well serve as a role model for its governmental counterparts. At least 91 cents of every dollar donated to the ARC goes directly to assist disaster victims, a performance that has earned the American Red Cross a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. As of late last week the ARC had received not quite $1 billion in gifts and pledges for its latest hurricane-relief efforts—which, as previously noted, are likely to cost well over $2 billion before the books are closed. Those interested in donating to an extremely worthy cause—and in ensuring that their donations are extremely well spent—may do so in several ways: Call 1-800-HELP NOW; make a secure donation online at www.redcross.org
; visit an official Red Cross (Cash) Donation Site; or contact a local ARC chapter.