Red Cross, Salvation Army face own challenges during Sandy response

WASHINGTON: Major nonprofits are working hard to convey consistent messages while at the same time overcoming power challenges and public-transit shutdowns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

WASHINGTON: Major nonprofits are working hard to convey consistent messages while at the same time overcoming power challenges and public-transit shutdowns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The American Red Cross' focus has shifted in recent days from preventative messages to focusing on what it is doing to aid people struck by the natural disaster.

“Now that Sandy has caused all this damage, we are telling [affected people] how they can count on us and that we are there for them,” said Anne Marie Borrego, director of media relations at the Red Cross.

On Monday night, nearly 11,000 people slept in more than 250 Red Cross shelters in 16 states including New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It has mobilized 1,700 disaster workers from all over the country who have served more than 25,000 meals and snacks.

To make sure the public is aware of what the Red Cross is doing, it has deployed public affairs volunteers and photographers around the country who are sleeping in shelters and writing about what Red Cross workers are doing, as well as the families they are meeting. It is publishing the work on its website and other social media channels.

The Red Cross is also telling people what they can do to help, because 300 blood drives in 14 states along the East Coast had been cancelled, resulting in a shortfall of more than 9,000 units of blood and platelet donations.

At the Salvation Army, the nonprofit is conducting daily calls with its PR officers so that its national press office can send a unified message of how the organization is responding to the disaster. However, due to the fallout from Sandy being so widespread, these calls are sometimes difficult to conduct, making this storm unique for the non-profit.

“There are people in some of our territory offices that have lost power, and contacting some of those folks has been difficult,” said Jennifer Byrd, national public relations director at the Salvation Army.

The national office has also worked to get the national media in touch with staff in the most affected areas so they can get a deeper sense of what the organization is doing. They are also sending out messages about the importance of donations to help with relief efforts.

The timing of the storm is difficult for the Salvation Army because it was just gearing up outreach for holiday fundraising. However, Byrd is optimistic those programs won't suffer.

“In years past, following natural disasters, the [annual] ‘red kettle' campaign hasn't suffered,” she said.

Xenophon Strategies is aiding the nonprofit with its Hurricane Sandy outreach efforts. The firm is helping with media relations, performing research, and releasing press releases and daily fact sheets, said Bob Brady, a director at the firm. It is also helping to man the nonprofit's social media channels.

Sandy has imposed a new challenge on the agency because it is the first event in recent memory to affect Washington DC, where its offices are located. Previously, Xenophon has mostly helped the Salvation Army with disaster outreach in the South. With public transit still shut down and much of the city inactive, staffers have been working remotely.

DC-based AARP is also facing similar facility challenges, but its staff is working to prevent its members from being swindled by people trying to make a quick buck post-Sandy.

The group is warning homeowners via its site and social media to be careful if they need to hire contractors to repair storm damage by asking them to vet candidates with the Better Business Bureau and never pay upfront.

“When it comes to fraud and scams, older Americans are often potential targets,” said David Allen, senior manager for media relations at AARP.

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