2012-12-14 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

By James Brennan Former Rockaway Resident

Brennan is partner and CEO of the Enlightened Hospitality Group in San Diego. His article was published in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Remember the old fairy tale about the sweet innocent young girl in the red cape who travels through the woods to bring food to her sick grandmother? You know, the story of the girl who meets a big bad wolf that seemingly wants to “help” her get to her grandmother, but after getting the necessary information from the girl, deceives her instead? Ring a bell?

I grew up in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. It has been one month since Superstorm Sandy touched down in my hometown and destroyed every structure in her path. While most of America watched with painstaking heartbreak as the Eastern Seaboard was struck, I knew my family and my friends were in big trouble.

Rockaway was going to need help. After not hearing from anyone in my family or neighborhood for over 24 hours as the storm blew in, I began putting a plan into motion. Within 36 hours, from as far north as Vermont and as far south as Maryland, I had truckloads of generators, fuel tanks, water pumps, chain saws, protective gear and safety equipment en route to Rockaway.

I arrived two days after the storm hit, and found my town completely devastated. I traveled from 14th Street in Far Rockaway to Breezy Point, assessing the needs of the community and making lists of what people needed.

I heard that the Red Cross was raising funds and deploying volunteers, but while there, the only “volunteers” I saw in Rockaway were neighbors, family, friends and people from all over the U.S. People who visited the beaches every summer, all made it out to Rockaway to do whatever they could. These people weren’t from the Red Cross.

Over 130 homes burned to the ground by fire the day Sandy struck, leaving hundreds of families displaced with nowhere to go and still there was no sign of the Red Cross. People were sleeping in their cold, dark, damp homes, exposing themselves to disease, infection, mold and extremely cold temperatures. Wreckage lurked in every direction.

Eleven days later, the Red Cross finally came to Rockaway ... to hand out hot dogs.

Over the course of the 11 days that followed Sandy’s arrival, the Red Cross said it raised $117 million and made a public announcement that its relief efforts were “near flawless.” Hundreds of thousands of Americans saw the images of Rockaway, watched Matt Lauer’s coverage on the “Today Show” and believed that the Red Cross would be the best way to get the residents of Rockaway and Breezy Point money to help rebuild.

The Red Cross has been around for 120 years, and has been deemed by Americans the third-highest-ranking charitable organization in the country. If anyone would do the right thing, it would be this organization, right? Citizens put their trust and faith into this organization and to date have now donated nearly $200 million to the relief fund.

But the big bad wolf is a master of deceit. They take but don’t give. They promise, but don’t deliver.

I believe the Red Cross is committing fraud. Where has the $200 million gone? None of the families or friends that I have helped have seen any money from the Red Cross. It is winter. It is cold. People are suffering.

If the Red Cross were a hedge fund or Wall Street firm, the SEC would have shut them down. How is it that one man, over 3,000 miles away in San Diego, is able to mobilize supplies, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and put into place a clearly organized strategy within 48 hours of this disaster, while an organization as great as the Red Cross has merely hosted a hot dog buffet for one of the most devastated towns in the country?

The big bad wolf has a persuasion about him that could convince any admirable soul to give. With the right verbiage and years of history backing them, they convinced millions of Americans that they were the safest route to get money to the people who needed it most in the storm’s aftermath.

They have failed and in doing so defrauded many of the American people out of their hard-earned money.

The Red Cross has gotten so big it has lost sight of what it set out to do in the first place, to provide aid and protection to those in need.

This organization has been a refuge for people in catastrophic situations, so to say it has been disappointing, inadequate and mismanaged would be a gross under- statement.

I am demanding that Congress act on the behalf of the American people it swore to serve, do a full audit on this organization.

The fraud needs to stop and the big bad wolf needs to be exposed. Lives depend on it.

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