When American Red Cross reorganized and scaled back its presence in local communities in 2011, there was worry about who would fill the void in helping those in the immediate aftermath of a fire or other crisis.
After some initial confusion, it appears that the agencies involved in providing aid to disaster victims have learned to work together and created a patchwork of responders that are meeting the needs of those in the their hour of need.
Despite only being staffed two days a week, the local Red Cross chapter remains the first agency called by fire and police officials when someone is displaced by a fire or other emergency, said Ball and Boyle County Fire Chief Donnie Sexton. The Salvation Army also is called as a first-responder on those occasions when Red Cross is unable to be on the scene quickly, the chiefs said.
Helping Hands was founded in late 2011 with plans to help fill the gap anticipated when Red Cross centralized its operations in Lexington.
Red Cross and the Salvation Army remain the community’s first-responders to emergency needs, and Helping Hands has taken on a secondary role in assisting disaster victims and others in difficult situations.
Ball, Sarah Terry, who coordinates the Red Cross office in Danville, and Lt. Jason Burns of The Salvation Army all said they have a good working relationship with Helping Hands and said the start-up relief agency has found a niche providing goods and services after aid from the primary responders has run its course.
“Our first call is to Red Cross. If Red Cross doesn’t get there in time, The Salvation Army will put them up for a night before Red Cross takes over,” Ball said. “For long-term help, we direct them to the Helping Hands folks.”
Arnold Marshall, chairman of the all-volunteer organization, said Helping Hands provided almost $15,000 in cash and in-kind donations to assist 233 people in need during 2012, its first full year of operation.
“For a young organization, we feel proud of ourselves for what we’ve been able to do so far,” Marshall said.
Not everyone, however, is pleased with the way things have shaken out since Red Cross reduced its profile in town.
In a letter to the editor, Jeannette Germann, a former member of the local Red Cross board of directors, wondered out loud where the agency was after a family was displaced by a fire in November. “Why did the Salvation Army get saddled with this cost again? Where is the Red Cross?” Germann asked in her letter.
Terry, who said she is in the Danville Red Cross office twice a week, said she was unsure why her agency did not respond to that fire. The local office’s phone number, (859) 236-6538, is answered between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, and is transferred to an automated system after hours, Terry said. The automated system is monitored around the clock, but apparently the call for that fire was missed, she said.
“We did not respond that day. I’m not sure what happened,” Terry said.
Burns, who has led the Danville branch of The Salvation Army since June, said his agency had responded to three or four fires since he’s been in town. Burns said he doesn’t think there is any disagreements or confusion about which groups are called in to help, or the roles they are supposed to play.
“We’ve not had any conflicts with any of the other agencies in town,” Burns said.
Germann’s letter elicited another letter from Ruthann Phillips, longtime director of the local Red Cross office who lost her job when the organization downsized in 2011. Phillips’ letter was critical of Helping Hands for failing to provide assistance in the immediate aftermath of disasters, its stated purpose when it was founded.
“I do not feel Helping Hands is accomplishing the mission it was formed to accomplish, namely transitional housing and immediate assistance for disaster victims,” Phillips said during an interview last week.
According to reports in The Advocate-Messinger in 2011, Helping Hands filed for — and later received — 501C3 tax-exempt non-profit status with the stated primary mission of helping fill the role formerly played by Red Cross in disaster response.