Archive for the tag 'red cross'

Source: DVIDSHUB/Flickr

The American Red Cross is coming under fire for refusing to disclose how it spent more than $300 million in funds raised for Superstorm Sandy relief, claiming that the information is a “trade secret.”

Investigative news outlet ProPublica has been fighting to get the independent relief organization to reveal how it spent donated funds on Sandy between the storm and February 2014, but the organization refuses to give a breakdown.

But the organization did fork over information to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating this and other charities – so ProPublica filed a public records request with his office to see what was handed over.

The site reports what happened next:

That’s where the law firm Gibson Dunn comes in.

An attorney from the firm’s New York office appealed to the attorney general to block disclosure of some of the Sandy information, citing the state Freedom of Information Law’s trade secret exemption.

The documents include “internal and proprietary methodology and procedures for fundraising, confidential information about its internal operations, and confidential financial information,” wrote Gabrielle Levin of Gibson Dunn in a letter to the attorney general’s office.

If those details were disclosed, “the American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross’s business model for an increased competitive advantage,” Levin wrote.

The letter doesn’t specify who the Red Cross’ “competitors” are.

The Red Cross is a public charity and occupies a unique place responding to disasters alongside the federal government.

Some of the organization’s redaction requests were trivial: lines that simple read “American Red Cross,” or sections of letter stating they were willing to meet with the attorney general.

Those requests were denied by Schneiderman’s office, but others included information that the attorney general agreed was “proprietary and constitutes trade secrets,” such as “business strategies, internal operational procedures and decisions, and the internal deliberations and decision-making processes that affect fundraising and the allocation of donations.”

ProPublica has not yet received the documents from the attorney general, but the outlet says it will report on them when they do.

UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): Councilmember Mark Treyger, chairman of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, asked us to tack this on to the article, following the introduction (with Councilmember Ulrich) of a bill to create a monitor to oversee Sandy relief funding to prevent fraud.

“Citizens who donate to disaster relief efforts, including in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, have a right to know that their money is being used to help victims recover and rebuild. With so much funding at stake, and residents still in need of so much assistance, I remain concerned about the potential for misuse of relief funds, including by government agencies, contractors and private organizations. That’s why I worked with my colleague Council Member Eric Ulrich to introduce legislation this week establishing an independent monitor to investigate instances of waste, fraud and abuse in order to maximize the amount of aid delivered to impacted neighborhoods across New York City. To be clear, I am not accusing the Red Cross of any improper activity, but rather am reiterating the need for openness and transparency as the recovery effort moves forward.”

American National Red Cross building (Source: Wikipedia)

American National Red Cross building (Source: Wikipedia)

The Red Cross, like many prominent charity organizations, promised aid and relief to scores of victims following the events of Superstorm Sandy. Aljazeera America is reporting that the organization has since informed many victims initially told they would receive help that they are now ineligible to access resources because of policy changes instituted by upper management operators.

After Sandy struck last year, the Red Cross raised $308 million for the relief effort, creating their Move-In Assistance Program in the process. The money raised was the highest gathered by any charity organization. The program promised storm victims that their belongings lost in the storm would be replaced and that they would be given $10,000 to find a new place to live. While the Red Cross is claiming that their program has helped nearly 3,000 victims, hundreds have been denied help due to eligibility requirements that were changed following promises made.

Aljazeera America relayed the story of Rosaline Fernandez, a storm victim who was promised help but ultimately never received it:

Rosaline Fernandez and her three children live in a tiny apartment. It’s all the high school Spanish teacher could find – or afford – after Superstorm Sandy ravaged her Jamaica Bay home on Long Island, N.Y., a year ago. The bay water met the ocean water, soon destroying her car, the furniture inside her home, her kids’ clothes and all the food.

“The first floor was completely washed out,” Fernandez told America Tonight. “There was mold. There was water. There [were] funky smells.”

Months of living in a hotel came and went before Fernandez heard that the Red Cross could help her out. She said she spoke to a caseworker who told her about the Move-In Assistance Program, a program that has helped nearly 3,000 households, according to the Red Cross. She said that the caseworker explained how Fernandez would be eligible for money to move into a new place and that all of her household items would be replaced. The Red Cross told Fernandez that she was eligible for $10,000. Once she found a new home, all she had to do was submit a W-9 tax form and the application, and she’d be set. Months later – and now more than a year after Sandy – she has not received her Red Cross aid…

“There are hundreds of people across New York that all have the same story, that were all told they would be assisted or they’re eligible for assistance, and did homework for the Red Cross,” said Ben Smilowitz, founder of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit aiming to improve transparency in relief organizations. Smilowitz, a former Red Cross volunteer during Hurricane Katrina, said that many people affected by Sandy “jumped through hoops, took days off work to collect information, and then only to find out that they weren’t eligible in the first place.”

As Smilowitz indicated, Fernandez was not alone in her struggle, as hundreds of other victims have been left in the cold by a change in Red Cross policy. What that change was exactly, and why it was instituted remains a mystery, but according to the report, many Red Cross employees, trying to help struggling families, were left outraged and dismayed by the upper management’s decision to do so:

The Red Cross worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said that, in general, he believed that the humanitarian organization attempts to be a good steward of donors’ dollars.

“However, the decision that was implemented on May 6 didn’t seem to have anything to do with that,” the worker told America Tonight. “There were clients who had received a commitment from the Red Cross for money to assist them in recovering from the storm, but then were deemed ineligible. That’s not assisting clients. That’s not directing the donor dollar where it should be. That’s lying to the victims of the storm and survivors of the storm.”

The Red Cross insists that the program criteria has been consistent since February, but that’s not what Red Cross workers say. America Tonight spoke to several former workers and one who still works there. They told MacVicar that after May 6, there was so much confusion about the program that they were ordered to not speak to their clients. Some Red Cross workers were so upset about telling clients they were no longer eligible for assistance that they quit their jobs. None of the current or former Red Cross employees who spoke to America Tonight could say for sure why the change was made, knowing only that it came from upper management.

For its part, the Red Cross has promised Congressional staff members that they would review their policies and attempt to honor any promises made that they have since rescinded.

“If clients believe they were promised assistance by a Red Cross caseworker and our documentation supports this, we will honor their request, even if they do not fully meet program criteria,” a spokesperson for the Red Cross told Aljazeera America.

Time will tell if the Red Cross comes through on their promise.

Have you or anyone you know been given assistance by the Red Cross following Sandy. Did they make you a promise but later deem you ineligible for funds? Lets us know.

Photo by Erica Sherman

It seemed to be just a matter of time before someone started wondering exactly how the millions upon millions of dollars that flowed in from charitable sources in the wake of Superstorm Sandy actually ended up being spent. And now State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is asking that very question, calling on dozens of charities to open the books on how they’ve spent millions of dollars raised to help storm victims.

Crain’s reports:

Some 40% of about $575 million in donations were unspent as of early April, according to an interim report Mr. Schneiderman’s office released Wednesday.

“It’s essential that both the donations and the distribution process be completely transparent and above board,” Mr. Schneiderman said. He said investigators in his office, which oversees charities, are still collecting information but have already seen suggestions of “serious problems in communication with donors and the distribution of funds.”

Mr. Schneiderman said his office is also interested in finding out how much money raised for Sandy relief actually went to organizational overhead or “non-Sandy” purposes.

In the interim report, the attorney general’s office said that charities and relief organizations that responded to a spring survey said about $238 million remained unspent as of early April.

“We understand that not every dollar can be spent right away, and some causes are best addressed over the long term,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

… In its report, Mr. Schneiderman’s office said that of the 89 organizations it identified as raising funds for Sandy victims or the rebuilding effort, 17 acknowledged that at least some of the money they raised in the storm’s aftermath would be used on charitable endeavors not directly linked to Sandy.


Sandy as seen from outer space. (Source:

June 1 marked the dreaded beginning of “hurricane season,” an event that people in the area will take more seriously this year thanks to Superstorm Sandy. A Wall Street Journal report cited a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that predicts 2013 will be an “active or extremely active” hurricane season. The study lists a 70 percent chance that the season will see 13-20 named storms and three to six major hurricanes.

With news that grim, it is important that everyone prepare themselves for hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) prepared a 7-part YouTube series, available in both English and Spanish, that provides vital step-by-step information on how to best prepare for hurricane season.

The NHC also includes a link to their Tropical Cyclone Preparedness guide and reminds people that the most important thing to remember in the event of a hurricane is to use common sense.

FEMA, through, put together their own hurricane guide that includes tips for preparing for storms. The Red Cross also has their own guide that includes a thorough checklist of all supplies needed in the event of another major storm.

Here at Sheepshead Bites we hope everyone stays prepared and stays safe. We encourage our readers to review and bookmark these resource guides for future reference.

Photo By Erica Sherman

Brighton Beach was hit as hard as any other coastal community ravaged by Superstorm Sandy and local residents are still feeling the effects of its destruction in the form of expensive electric bills, according to a report by CBS NY.

Since Sandy came ashore late last October, amazingly, many residents of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and elsewhere are still without heat. To stay warm in these harsh winter months, people have substituted working heat with electric space heaters, many of which were given out by Red Cross, FEMA and other disaster support groups.

As a consequence, their electric bills have skyrocketed, punishing the pocket books of people just trying to stay warm.

CBS NY tracked the plight of the residents of 601 Brightwater Court. After Sandy, the heat was knocked out of the building and the city distributed electric space heaters to keep elderly couples like Pavel Gertsman and his wife warm.

While the heaters were welcome, the increased electric bills topping out at an extra $150 a month, were not. Their plight was relayed through Brighton Beach Business Improvement District Executive Director Yelena Makhnin:

“They’re on a fixed income with $1,100 family, and the difference in $150, it makes those people choose between food and Con Edison bills,” Makhnin said.

She said the Gertsmans have health problems and cannot afford the huge bill.

Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee said the utility is forbidden by law from reducing the Gertsman’s bill.

For his part, McGee suggested that people unable to pay their bills as a result of Sandy could try reaching out to non-profit organizations like the Red Cross.

Other options include contacting the city’s Human Resources Administration, which has federally funded home energy assistance programs. You can visit their website by clicking the link above or call them at (800) 692-0557.

Port Sheepshead Marina, nothing but rubble.

Despite more than a week of cleaning, Emmons Avenue’s eastern end, a strip of waterfront condos, bungalows and boating clubs, remains in shambles.

We visited Emmons Avenue’s two waterfront bungalow colonies earlier this week, and, though Hurricane Sandy destroyed several homes and left families for the streets, there had been no visits from FEMA, Red Cross or any examples of the volunteer frenzy other neighborhoods have received.

In the absence of outside help, neighbors banded together to help each other.

Keep reading, and view a photo gallery of the destruction in the bungalow colonies.

Some of the damage in Sea Gate, at the tip of Coney Island, left by Sandy. Photo by Erica Sherman

A news report is shining a light on Coney Island residents still left in the dark with no power, and in some cases with no heat or hot water. Public housing buildings right by the boardwalk got smashed by Sandy – flooding basements, pouring sand into building lobbies, and totaling cars – leaving elderly residents vulnerable, and causing increasing dismay as each day passes.

“Cold, no water, can’t flush my commode, I have to come downstairs and bring water up, ice, my refrigerator is not working because I have no electric. We need help,” told a Coney Island tenant to NY1.

As Sheepshead Bites’ own Laura Vladimirova previously reported, the situation on Coney Island is dire, and the area is in desperate need of supplies and volunteers like her and Bensonhurst Bean’s David Cohen, who both graciously offered their time to help out. If you are looking to donate, Laura recommends the following items: water, matches, candles, flashlights, canned goods, blankets, and clothing.

The Red Cross, FEMA, and the National Guard have set up emergency services in the area to help residents in the area with food and supplies. If you are a Coney Island resident in need of relief services, you can head to Brighton Beach Avenue and Coney Island Avenue until 4:00 p.m. Services are also being offered at West 25th Street and Surf Avenue until 4:00 p.m., and FEMA will be at the MCU Ballpark until 5 p.m.

More information can also be found on the Twitter pages of local pols, including Councilman Domenic M. Recchia, and Assemblymen Alec Brook-Krasny, both of whom are supplying up to the minute status reports and updates from Coney Island in an effort bring the area back from the abyss.

Kentucky National Guardsmen engage in a search and rescue mission March 3, in West Liberty, Ky., for survivors after torrential storms and violent winds destroyed much of the community there March 2. Photo by Spc. David Bolton, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kentucky National Guard.

As many of us are aware, a series of deadly tornadoes on March 2 and 3 cut devastating swaths of destruction throughout the southern section and heartland of the United States, including in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. At last count, 39 people were killed by the storms.

Among the more tragic reports emerging from the weekend of unimaginable horror was the death of 15-month-old Indiana toddler Angel Babcock, who lived for two more days after being lifted into the air by one of the deadly vortexes and then dropped in a field. Both of the little girl’s parents and two siblings had also been killed by the tornado.

For those who are looking to help those affected by these storms, State Senator Marty Golden’s office has compiled a list of ways we can contribute financially and help our fellow Americans put their shattered lives back together. According to Golden:

“Many local governments and voluntary agencies are providing shelter for disaster survivors displaced by the storms, but the road to recovery will be a long one and further assistance is always welcome. For those seeking a way to help out our fellow Americans in this time of need, I have provided a list below of some non-profit agencies and the different ways one can contribute.”

By Texting:

  • Sending “REDCROSS” via text message to 90999 will charge $10 to your next cell phone bill to distribute to the American Red Cross.
  • Sending “STORM” via text message to 80888 will charge $10 to your next cell phone bill to distribute to The Salvation Army (You will need to reply “yes” when asked).


By Phone:

  • The American Red Cross can be reached at (800) RED CROSS (800-733-2767).
  • Feeding America can be reached at (800) 771-2303 (National Office).
  • The Salvation Army can be reached at (800) SAL-ARMY.

By Mail:

  • American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013
  • The Salvation Army Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 100339, Atlanta, Ga. 30384-0339

The scene of the fire at 2775 East 12th Street on Saturday evening. (Photo by Ian Sellick)

Residents of the Bel-Air building at 2775 East 12th Street are being allowed to return to their homes after a fire forced them to evacuate on Saturday.

Sheepshead Bites visited the building today and found residents buzzing about the building’s entrance, many carrying bags. It was hopefully the end of the two-day ordeal, in which the residents relocated to the homes of friends and family, and American Red Cross also provided an emergency shelter at Bay Academy Junior High School.

However, not everyone is being allowed back to their apartments, according to one Sheepshead Bites commenter. She writes:

Apparently they are turning the lights on in order of your apartment, but not everyone is guaranteed to be allowed into their apartment tonight. The power in the building is restored but not all the wings have power. They are urging everyone to have someone stop by and speak to the super so he can verify if your apartment will have power.

On Sunday, management for the Bel-Air building taped a typed statement onto the front door’s of the building.

“Building management is on site and is working with our licensed engineers and Con Edison representatives to restore power as soon as possible. We will organize escorted access during the hours of 8:00 am – 5:00 pm,” said KQR Management LLC.

The management company did not return calls for comment by the time this story went to press.

The fire broke out in the electrical room at around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, at first causing power outages to the apartment units.

“At first I thought it was just my apartment, but then I found it happened to everyone else,” said a resident.

“It was hectic on Saturday, there was a lot of commotion,” said another resident.


We just received word that there is a fire burning on Guider Avenue and East 12th Street.

Tipster Ian Sellick just sent over this email…

At least a dozen fire trucks, Guider Ave, E 12th closed, residents evacuated. Major incident center set up.

That’s all we have right now and we’re heading over to the scene.  Updates to come.

UPDATE: 8:17 PM: Sources tell Sheepshead Bites that a fire broke out in the electrical room in the basement of 2775 East 12th Street at approximately 6:30 pm today. At this time we don’t have confirmation that the fire has been put out or is under control.

Residents first became aware of the fire when lights began to flicker and electric appliances shut down. This was followed by the shut down of cable TV. Residents then noticed that the lighting in the hallways and public areas were off.  Then remaining lights in the apartment building shut down in what appeared to an orderly fashion.

One resident told Sheepshead Bites that she was returning from work and was stuck in an elevator for over 20 minutes until she was rescued by fire fighters.  No one has been injured in the fire.

The building has been completely evacuated and the American Red Cross has setup  an emergency shelter at Bay Academy.  Residents may bring pets to the shelter, only if they are in a cage.  The Red Cross told residents that they will not be able to re-enter the building tonight.

East 12 Street is closed from the bridge to Neptune Avenue and many surrounding streets are closed to vehicular traffic as well.

2775 East 12th Street is a seven story building with 29 units per floor.

We’ll bring you more information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: 8:36 PM: Tipster Ian Sellick just made his on the scene photos available on Flickr. You can check out all of Ian’s photos HERE.

This is a breaking news story and may contain inaccuracies. We will update it as more information becomes available. If anyone has more information or additional photos, please send them to tips (at) sheepsheadbites (dot) com.