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Red Cross seeking disaster relief funds

It’s been an active year for disasters – a record number of tornadoes, the worst flooding in the Midwest in 15 years, an early wildfire season and an active hurricane season that is not yet over.

That’s why the American Red Cross is launching a national fundraising campaign to raise an initial $100 million to fill its depleted Disaster Relief Fund.

The Disaster Relief Fund allows the Suffolk chapter of the Red Cross to provide emergency assistance to help victims of disasters meet their immediate needs for food, shelter, counseling and other critical services, said Faye Byrum, executive director of the Suffolk chapter.

Nationwide, the Red Cross responds to 70,000 disasters each year – the majority of them “silent” disasters never making the news. After tragedy strikes, the Red Cross relies on this fund to mobilize volunteers and resources to help communities throughout the United States.

“The Red Cross is always there when disaster strikes, but this year has been an active disaster year and the cost of providing relief has rapidly outpaced contributions,” said Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern. “We sheltered more people during the first nights of Hurricane Gustav than the first days of Katrina.

“While the media has packed up and moved on, we are still there helping a large number of people.”

Byrum urged local residents to help with the fundraising campaign.

“The American people have always responded generously to support their neighbors during their time of need, and I urge all Americans to join together and make a contribution to the Disaster Relief Fund today,” she said. “No matter how small, every donation can change a life.”

The Red Cross is taking many steps to reduce its disaster response costs including consolidating warehouse space, using technology that further automates its casework process, and placing a greater emphasis on using local volunteers and utilizing community partner resources.

Since January 2008, Red Cross volunteers have responded to thousands of house fires and more than 60 large-scale disasters – including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires – which have steadily depleted the Disaster Relief Fund. Expenses for Hurricane Gustav alone are estimated to be as much as $70 million dollars for the Red Cross and the organization has only raised a fraction of what is needed to support affected families. The cost of the Hurricane Ike relief effort could easily climb higher than that.

The Suffolk chapter of the Red Cross will continue helping individuals and families battered by the 2008 storms and hurricanes: Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

In the interim, the Red Cross is borrowing money to cover the costs of the hurricanes of 2008. Despite this, the Red Cross has not cut any of its services to disaster victims and does not expect to do so.

While the organization is initially striving to raise $100 million to help those in need, the Red Cross is in the midst of both hurricane and wildfire season and does not know what the future will bring.

You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year, disasters like the Hurricanes of 2008, by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. You can log-on to www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) to make a donation. You can also use your cell phone to donate $5 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by text messaging the keyword “GIVE” to “2HELP” (24357). You can send multiple donations depending on your carrier. Contributions will appear on monthly bills or be debited from a prepaid account balance. All applicable text rates apply.