Magazine article Insight on the News

The Red Cross in the Cross Hairs? Families of Oklahoma City Bombing Victims Say They Did Not Receive Funds Sent to Them by Mail and Handled by the Red Cross. and Questions Are Being Raised in New York City. (Nation: Victim assistance)(Cover Story)

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Red Cross in the Cross Hairs? Families of Oklahoma City Bombing Victims Say They Did Not Receive Funds Sent to Them by Mail and Handled by the Red Cross. and Questions Are Being Raised in New York City. (Nation: Victim assistance)(Cover Story)

Article excerpt

In a time of national tragedy the true spirit of America shines through, and nowhere is this more evident than in the outpouring of extraordinary amounts of money for the survivors and families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. To date, nearly $800 million has been donated to various funds and charitable organizations. And the flood continues as every day it seems some new fund is created. While it now appears that donations are likely to go well over the $1 billion mark by the end of October, issues are being raised about how much of that will make it to those for whom this outpouring was intended.

Who or what is responsible for making sure this money gets to the intended recipients? Will it go to current victims and their families or will some go into larger portfolios for future crises? And how much of the collected funds will cover administrative expenses and fund raising or mailing-list prospecting?

To try to answer these questions Insight has been looking at what happened to the huge sums collected in the aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. While the families interviewed were reluctant to discuss the level of support provided them by charitable organizations, this magazine discovered a different picture than was (and is) being publicly portrayed.

For instance, Insight has learned that letters of condolence and donations sent through the U.S. Postal Service and deemed "undeliverable" often are turned over to charitable organizations involved in disaster relief. Sometimes mail would be addressed in care of a charity or fund. A case in point: the American Red Cross. The Postal Service received thousands of cards, letters and gift packages that were addressed, for example, to "the woman who lost two kids" the "rescue dogs" or the "family who lost the little boy" Both the Postal Service and the Red Cross have confirmed that within weeks of the bombings most of this mail was forwarded through the postal system to the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Red Cross where it was opened and read by volunteers. When possible, letters and packages were forwarded to the intended families.

Mike Ellis, the postal inspector in Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing, tells Insight: "These procedures will change post office to post office depending on the situation. There is no set policy. The Postal Service sat down with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the governor's and mayor's offices, and it was decided the post office would deliver it if it was addressed to specific places and people and the Red Cross would take any undeliverable mail."

"The Red Cross," continues Ellis, "had volunteers who would open the mail, and if there were donations in the envelopes they would go into a general fund that the Red Cross had set up. The general fund was distributed to the victims at the time." Three of four families directly affected by the bombing who spoke with Insight about the mail-delivery system acknowledged that all of the mail they received from the American Red Cross had been opened. More notable, however, is what these families reported about the surprising change in their mail deliveries after the American Red Cross took over for the Postal Service.

"The first days after the bombing" says one family member, "people from all over the country were sending checks in lieu of flowers and we were getting a lot of checks and cash every day -- hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. Then the Red Cross went down to the post office and made arrangements to collect the mail and they would deliver it to us in bulk. All the mail had been opened, and from that point on there never was a dime, even in letters that said money was enclosed."

A member of another family recalls a similar experience: "We got this big box from the American Red Cross with more than 100 letters and each one of them had been opened. …

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