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Sept. 11th efforts stretch but don’t break local nonprofits

More than 180 funds dedicated to September 11th relief efforts have been established across the nation, said Don Paxton, director of the state office for the American Red Cross.

Mississippians have not stood on the sidelines in relief efforts to aid victims of the Sept. 11 attacks — of the $543 million collected for the American Red Cross Liberty Fund, $1 million came from Mississippi, with Jackson-area contributions totaling over $300,000, said Paxton.

With no extra outreach efforts made by the local chapter for September 11th relief efforts, checks and cash delivered directly to the Salvation Army office in Jackson for the disaster still came to about $20,000, said public relations director James Sutton, of the over $56 million collected in private, corporate, and in-kind gifts reported by The Salvation Army’s National Headquarters USA to their dedicated relief fund.

The September 11th Fund, established by the United Way of New York City, has allocated more than $48 million in grants, with United Way of the Capital Area sending over $50,000 donated at various bank branches throughout the metro area, according to Tanya Mayfield, director of marketing.

Added to the monetary funds were extraordinary amounts of blood donations in the weeks following the attacks, with 3,500 pints collected at the Mississippi Blood Services Jackson office in the week following the attacks, according to Dani Edmonson, state communications manager.

Statewide, 6,100 pints were collected for United Blood Services of Mississippi, said Susan Caine, communication relations representative.

However, the outpouring has caused some difficulties for several of these non-profits — both on the national and local levels. American Red Cross head Bernadine Healy resigned, effective at the end of the year, over disagreements with the Red Cross board over establishment of the Liberty Fund and over the possibility of using some of the donated funds in anticipation of future anti-terrorism needs.

Local organizations involved in disaster relief felt the pinch of supporting the efforts in a myriad of ways — from overtime costs for blood bank staffers and extra postage stamps needed to mail thank-you letters to donors — to personal efforts on the part of non-profit staffers to handle the load.

“It’s an additional responsibility we have, but we will be committed to our local services and continue to provide them,” said Paxton.

The Jackson office, which provides support to other Red Cross chapters in Mississippi as well as services to the Jackson area, had to hire a temporary worker to keep the donor database updated to track the contributions.

Salaried staffers worked most of the overtime needed to respond to the national efforts to minimize the costs; according to Paxton, nine of the 16 full-time Jackson staff are salaried (as opposed to hourly) workers.

Babs Faulk of the Hattiesburg Red Cross chapter said that by the end of September, two workers had accumulated 43 hours of overtime — with one staffer working weekends as well as days for 19 of them with no time off.

Faulk said that the problems could have been worse without the effort of many volunteers helping with the administrative tasks.

“What has been hardest for people to understand is why we can’t send them to New York or Washington to help,” Faulk said, citing the need for experienced and specially trained volunteers to go into a disaster site as massive as the World Trade Center towers. Paxton said Mississippi had 15 Red Cross volunteers on the ground in NYC with others preparing to go after that group’s three-week rotation has ended.

Edmonson said her staff at Mississippi Blood Services began realizing within 24 hours that the blood they were collecting would not be necessary in New York City — and not only due to the limited number of causalities as opposed to fatalities.

“New York donated so much that they didn’t have to ask for any more,” Edmonson said. “We love seeing that kind of blood coming in the door. What we didn’t want was to expire supplies in 42 days.”

Extra blood drives, longer daily hours and weekend operating hours for donations extended throughout the next week as well. “Every staff member — salaried and nonsalaried — worked four to five hours per day of overtime” for those seven days, Edmonson said. MBS has 150 staffers, 30 are salaried.

Local staffers began explaining that donations would be earmarked for New York and Washington, D.C., if needed, but would be used in Mississippi if not requested. Four-thousand-four-hundred pints are regularly used per month by MBS recipients — the bank had enough supplies on hand to store that amount. An AMR ambulance made an emergency run to Memphis on Sept. 14 to bring in 1,000 more bags to replenish their stock, Edmonson said.

“Every donation was used,” said Edmonson, citing the practice of storing packed red blood cells, platelets and plasma separately for different needs throughout the community.

United Blood Services set up a relay system to have blood screened in a timely fashion, given the flight restrictions in place after the attacks.

“The night of Sept. 11, we helped courier blood samples from each of our four locations to Jackson, then staff from UBS Jackson drove to Shreveport, La., and met someone from UBS in Texarkana, Texas, who then drove the samples on to Bedford, Texas, for testing,” said Chris Coffin, assistant executive director from UBS Meridian.

UBS donations also stayed in Mississippi, with staffers asking people to consider returning later to avoid donors being unable to give blood during the upcoming holiday season due to the two-month waiting period for their next donation.

“Even though they came out in time of crisis, hospitals in Mississippi need blood every day, and we encourage them to come back,” said Caine.

Volunteers staffed refreshment tables and helped with paperwork for those in line.

Edmonson concurred on the need to follow up with donors, especially those donating for the first time in the wake of Sept. 11.

“We often have to import blood. We will no longer be able to do that because no one knows what will be hit next,” said Edmonson.

MBS plans to send all donors from that time period windshield stickers proclaiming them to be a “Sept. 11 Blood Donor” in follow-up literature requesting renewed donations.

Edmonson was touched by the outpouring of support; people standing in line offered to drive blood to New York and Washington if needed.

“Even if we had lost money during that time, we would have done it anyway,” she said.

Paxton agreed but noted, “For local agencies, the challenge is that services needed will continue to be provided.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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