Aid organization in need of assistance

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 27, 2010

Red Cross volunteers grew accustomed to the color red decades ago.
They’ve seen it drip from the arms of blood donors. They’ve seen it engulf local homes.
But they’ve never seen the sight of it dripping from the Red Cross’ own coffers.
The Polk County Red Cross budget is bleeding.
“We’re hurting; that’s the only way I can put it,” said board chairman Clay Ayers.
The Polk County budget averages $95,000 each year, with $5,000 dedicated solely to the Disaster Action Team. Just six months into the budget year, Ayers said funds are almost $20,000 under where they should be.
“We’re supposed to have enough revenue to support a $10,000 disaster in our county without any funds from anywhere else,” he said. “And we don’t.”
During the bad ice storm several years ago, the Red Cross sheltered up to 50 people. He said many local people and organizations have been wonderful in pitching in during these situations. But, he said, if Polk County were to face a large-scale natural disaster today, the Red Cross’ hands would be almost tied.
The Disaster Action Team provides assistance in a variety of ways.
They provide water and Gatorade for the sheriff’s office and fire departments when they are called out to disasters. They also respond to handfuls of fires each year with blankets and supplies for residents. Plus, they provide clothing, shelter and food to families after a fire.
Ayers said the organization can typically house someone for up to three days in a hotel, which costs about $50 a night. He said they also help to provide some prescription medicines when those are destroyed in a fire.
Just as a single fire can devastate a family’s bank account, it often can do so for the Red Cross. Ayers said volunteers have made up the difference in years past by hosting fish fries, barbecue plate sells and other fundraisers.
This year they lost money – many from their own pockets – on all of the fundraising events they attempted.
“People just don’t have the money to spend on a barbecue plate this year,” Ayers said. “It’s hurting us, too.”
This year they brought in $600 from the fish fry and $300 from the barbecue sale – events that typically clear between $1,500 to $2,000 each year.
What has placed the organization in such dire straits?
The economy, Ayers said.
“Personally, I feel like I’ve seen the economy hit Polk County worse in the last six months than it has in the past five or six years,” Ayers said. “In years past we’d always be able to have one big fundraiser that would be able to bring in $6-8,000. We haven’t been able to bring anything like those numbers in all year.”
A rummage sale earlier in the year did bring in some funds. Two years ago their book sale made more than $4,000 and then last year they made under $3,000.
A solicitation from the Asheville Regional Chapter went out at the beginning of December to homes throughout the area. Ayers said many people have misunderstood the letter, assuming that all the money donated would go to Asheville and not Polk County. Ayers said donations from local residents would actually filter back to the area. He said financials of each chapter under Asheville’s umbrella are simply organized there.
Most Red Cross chapters also receive at least one-fourth of their budget through the United Way. Ayers said Polk County gains nothing from United Way because there is not a United Way in Polk County.
They have received funds from the Polk County Community Foundation in the past.
“There will always be a Red Cross in Polk County. Will it be to the extent we have now? I can’t answer that, but if it were to change from what it is now you wouldn’t have the one-on-one response you have locally.”
The Polk County Red Cross was chartered in 1917 as the Tryon Red Cross. The chapter was renamed the Polk County Chapter in 1918.
Donations can be made to the Polk County Red Cross by mailing checks to P.O. Box 807, Columbus, N.C. 28722.

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