Senator Charles Grassley says the Red Cross makes volunteers who raise concerns or report problems “feel like the skunk at the picnic.” Grassley sent a long letter to top Red Cross officials yesterday (Monday), part of his review of the agency’s response to hurricanes which struck the Gulf Coast last fall. Grassley singled out Christee Lesch of Adel, Iowa, as one of those Red Cross workers who came forward to report problems she saw in New Orleans.
Lesch says when she came back from Louisiana, she asked to meet with local and regional Red Cross officials. “One of the people was fairly defensive about what I had to say. The other was pretty open-minded,” Lesch says. “I continued to correspond with them and gradually I stopped getting responses.” Lesch was assigned to one of the two Red Cross feeding sites in the New Orleans neighborhood of Algers “The first day we wasted probably about 20,000 meals. The Red Cross has a policy of throwing meals away at the end of the day,” Lesch says. “A local restaurant was making the meals for us, so one of our people renegotiated with him to make smaller batches of meals and (the restaurant owner) actually volunteered to charge less per meal and when we told our higher-ups at the Red Cross, they said ‘Oh, just forget about it. We’re going to keep the order the same tomorrow.'”
Lesch says that second day, they wasted another 150-thousand dollars worth of meals at the two Red Cross feeding sites in Algers. “We continued to offer solutions to save money and it fell on deaf ears,” Lesch says. So, Lesch and a handful of other Red Cross workers contacted Grassley and he heard their concerns about wasteful spending. Grassley then pressured top Red Cross to hear the group’s concerns, and Grassley met with the group in January. “He was very interested in what we had to say. He was very interested in knowing how the meeting went with the Red Cross,” Lesch says. “We had written quite a long report for the Red Cross which we also provided to Senator Grassley.”
In his letter yesterday, Grassley said he is “particularly troubled that several volunteers have told (him) that when they tried to raise concerns or issues about possible misuse of donated funds and property – including suspected criminal activity – the volunteers were ignored, told to leave or otherwise made to feel like the skunk at the picnic. This type of culture, a culture that discourages people from coming forward, management that does not want to hear the bad news, and is more concerned about good press than good results, is a theme that I am hearing too often from Red Cross volunteers.”
Grassley told the Red Cross they must “correct this culture” because it is undermining the effectiveness of the organization.