Questions arise over Red Cross aidBy Heather Murtagh
After nearly three months, Allen B. was released from the burn unit.
He was one of the people badly injured during the Sept. 9 natural gas line explosion and fire that killed eight, injured many, destroyed 37 houses and damaged many more in San Bruno's Glenview neighborhood. Allen, who preferred not to have his full name listed, had one thing on his mind during a forum about the incident Tuesday night: help for those affected.
His family member asked the Red Cross for help and after an hour and a half and lots of paperwork, he left with $100. Allen is frustrated. Money came in from all over after the horrible September event made news, but those who need it feel like they're not getting what they need.
Those who lost their homes or were injured are going through a lot but asking for help may not be the easiest thing to do. But that's what the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter hopes they'll do. Having those conversations helps the nonprofit better assist those individuals.
"Communication is a two-way street," said Bill Magoolaghan, whose family has been displaced. "People are reluctant to ask for money and say we need anything. There's a disconnect between the people and the Red Cross since the recreation center [where residents were initially offered help]."
Melanie Finke, communications director for the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter, was sorry to hear people were frustrated.
"We want people to get the help they need," she said.
More than $1 million was donated to the American Red Cross to help San Bruno victims. The money will be used for four purposes: immediate needs, long-term needs, neighbor-to-neighbor training and helping San Bruno better prepare for a disaster.
The first step, immediate needs, were addressed right after the incident. During that time, the Red Cross logged 400 displaced families. Food, shelter and medication needs were met, said Finke. Money was also used during that time to cover Red Cross' costs like vehicles and feeding people.
Now, the organization is in the long-term recovery portion, which it estimates will take about a year. It is now partnering with other groups and encouraging those affected to contact the Red Cross to discuss their needs, which the organization will turn around and try to meet with the donations or partnerships formed with other nonprofits, she said. Next month, the Red Cross will open an office in San Bruno so people can drop in and talk about their needs. In the meantime, a number has been set up specifically for people in this area, (877) 773-7229.
Looking forward, Red Cross will be holding training for those in the affected area to teach coping methods that can be used by the individual or to comfort neighbors or children, said Finke. The first training was held last week.
Magoolaghan's family plans to call the Red Cross and possibly get set up with needed services. In the meantime, Magoolaghan hopes organizations like the Red Cross and the city of San Bruno, which collected donations for the victims, work together when deciding how to best serve those in need.
San Bruno's donations came under question earlier this month.
Donors generously gave funds to benefit those affected by the Sept. 9 explosion and fire to numerous accounts, including one overseen by the city which currently holds about $380,000. Councilmembers Irene O'Connell and Michael Salazar were appointed to head the committee charged with distributing the money.
"We want to be equitable and fair," said O'Connell. "We don't want to squander the money. We want to use the money wisely."
Tentatively, the two hope to create a five-person committee made up of themselves and three individuals from the Glenview area to decide the distribution. Before money is given out, the committee will take suggestions from the community, O'Connell said. Solicitation for volunteers should start at the first of the year.
San Bruno victims who need help can contact the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter at (877) 773-7229 or city of San Bruno at 616-7180, option 2.
Copyright ©2010 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 12/09/2010.