The American Red Cross is reversing course and dedicating donations pledged via text message to Oklahoma disaster relief in response to controversy over previous plans to designate the money to the charity's national fund.
The Oklahoman first reported Wednesday that the text pledges were not being designated to tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma, unlike similar text donations to the Regional Food Bank, Salvation Army and United Way of Central Oklahoma.
The online version of the story was shared more than 15,000 times on Facebook and on other social media, prompting debate for and against the charity's decision.
Roger K. Lowe, senior vice president of communications at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., acknowledged he and other officials saw the public response on social media.
“Text donations to the American Red Cross since Monday will be used for our response to the Oklahoma storms,” Lowe said. “We believe this is consistent with the wishes of text donors who were motivated to contribute by the devastation and damage caused by the tornadoes in Oklahoma. For perspective, the Red Cross took the same step with text donations when Superstorm Sandy hit last October.”
Since Monday, pledge donations have totaled $3.8 million, translating to 380,000 people texting $10 each. Once those phone bills are paid, the pledges are collected by Red Cross.
“We are so grateful that since Monday we received $3.8 million via text message, $10 at a time,” Lowe said. “That just shows the outpouring of support and the compassion of the American people. I'm just so amazed.”
Lowe said such confusion does arise as the Red Cross is required to immediately respond to disasters before any money is donated.
“When disasters strike, our relief money is what we use when we open shelters, we provide food and medical assistance, and mental health,” Lowe said. “And that's what happened in Moore, elsewhere in Oklahoma, and places in other states that were hit by these storms.”
United Way of Central Oklahoma, meanwhile, is teaming up with Gov. Mary Fallin to establish the OK Strong Governor's Fund to address long-term needs of disaster victims.
United Way of Central Oklahoma Debby Hampton said no administrative fee will be charged against that fund.
“The money goes to partner agencies of United Way currently serving victims and survivors,” Hampton said. “We anticipate it will take several years to rebuild, and there will be mental care needs for years for those traumatized.”
Hampton noted Red Cross is a partner agency, and she is proud of its response to the devastation that hit Moore, Shawnee, Carney and other state communities this past week.
“We have 61 partner agencies,” Hampton said. “It's because of donors to the United Way that they're even able to respond in the way they have, being first on the scene, taking care of survivors and first responders.”