Despite raising more than $1 billion in relief aid for Katrina victims, the American Red Cross came under fire for what some saw as preferential distribution of funds and insensitive treatment of hurricane victims who were Black and impoverished. According to Joe Leonard, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum, in the critical early days after the storm, volunteers were not deployed to poor Black neighborhoods along the Gulf Coast. Rick Pogue, chief diversity officer for the Red Cross, admits that the organization at first had trouble getting teams into impoverished areas, while more affluent areas were easier to access. African-American evacuees who did receive assistance reported being "herded like cattle" and rudely treated by mostly White volunteers. Black leaders also charged that the organization ignored local Black churches working to secure the neediest victims.
In light of the accusations, the Red Cross is seeking more Black volunteers. "We actually began efforts to reach diverse audiences before Katrina," says Pogue. "Its impact just underscored our need to have the resources to get to everyone." Last November, as part of its push to hire more volunteers of color, the organization partnered with Helping Hands Coalition, a nonprofit group that serves a hundred Black churches in Houston, Texas. Pogue says the Red Cross is also discussing similar partnerships with the NAACP and the Urban League.
If you're interested in assisting Katrina evacuees through the Red Cross, log on to redcross.org or call your local chapter.
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A Red Cross volunteer.