Editor's Note: After this story was originally published, The American Red Cross reversed course and dedicated donations pledged via text message to Oklahoma disaster reliefs in response to controversy over previous plans to designate the money to the charity's national fund.
The American Red Cross estimates “several million” dollars have been donated via electronic text messages since a tornado devastated Moore on Monday, but the money is not specifically designated to relief efforts in Oklahoma.
A representative of the local chapter, however, promised money donated to the local organization will be used for relief efforts in Oklahoma.
Ann Marie Borrego, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., verified Tuesday that money donated by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999 will instead go toward a national disaster recovery fund.
“Our hearts go out to everyone in Oklahoma,” Borrego said. “When someone texts “REDCROSS” to 90999, that $10 donation goes to the American Red Cross. I could have donated on May 15 and that's what it would go in. It goes to general disaster relief. It is not designated to Oklahoma or any specific disaster relief.”
Borrego said some of the money donated via text message may end up being used in Oklahoma, and noted the agency has already sent crews into the state to provide food, emergency shelter, aid stations, clean up kits, mobile kitchens and counseling to the tornado victims.
Oklahoma City resident Alicia Sullivan, who has been following news of Monday's disaster and the outpouring of donations through online social media, is among those concerned that message is not being shared.
“I don't disagree with helping others,” Sullivan said. “But it should be known to the public that if you're giving a million to help your neighbors that not all of that million might be going to help them. They should make this clear to people.”
Borrego responds that if people wish to donate to their local chapter — the Oklahoma Red Cross — they should do so via their website. She said she believes the agency clearly expresses how it will use donations sent via text message.
“We tell people to donate to disaster relief so we can then determine how those funds are used to support communities when they are needed most,” Borrego said.
Ken Garcia, regional director of communications, said he expects all of the funds being donated to the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Red Cross will be used for relief efforts related to the recent storms.
“Money that is donated to the American Red Cross to the disaster fund will be used for efforts in Oklahoma, whether it's for Moore, Shawnee or Carney. It will be used for the overall disaster relief operation.”
Garcia said he had no estimate of donations given directly to the state operation, or how much money is needed to address local needs.
“Right now we are assessing what will be needed,” Garcia said. “The money will be raised for what is needed in Oklahoma. We don't like for it to be designated to one event. Oklahoma is a state that is prone to disasters.”
With several more million dollars being donated by corporations and other entities, questions also are emerging about whether a centralized, long-term fund will be set up.
Nancy Anthony, director of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, said Tuesday discussions are being held but it is too early to make any such arrangements.
“It's so early,” Anthony said. “I'm sure it will occur later. Right now, we're encouraging people to send support to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and churches doing work directly in the area.”
Anthony said her foundation has a tornado recovery fund that has accepted some donations, but she has not openly solicited such contributions.
“We've received it from those who we have worked with in the past,” Anthony said. “Given the size of this deal, we'll just turn around and distribute it to a direct need.”
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his... read more ›
How to help