Cover Story: Red Cross facing severe strain

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Local charities struggling to make ends meet and struggling to serve the needs of people in our community.  The United Way, which distributes donated dollars, took in less money during the recent fundraising campaign.  It was forced to cut funding to all but four local charities.

Out of the 85 local charities that got their funding cut by the United Way.. the local Red Cross chapter was the second hardest hit in terms of total dollars.

It was the second dose of bad news for the Greater Carolinas chapter this year.

Three times a week it arrives at a Charlotte area dialysis center.

The Red Cross van.. and volunteer driver.

Today it's Woody.

Here to pick up Bob Brooks.. 73 years.. legally blind.. who has to get his kidney treatments or he dies.

"I'm high maintenance I guess you would say."

His daughters wanted him moved from Hyde Park, New York but knew they couldn't do the shuttle service.

He only moved down here because of the Red Cross.

"I wouldn't be able to be down here without the transportation," he says.

A service the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross offers to people in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties.. free trips to and from medical appointments.

Red Cross is known for blood donations..

Aid in disasters..

And health and safety programs (like swimming lessons)

But transportation services fill a need in the community that flies under the radar.

It's also on the chopping block.

Pam Jefsen is CEO of the local chapter.

She says, "There are people who will be faced now with a situation what am I going to do about my doctor and I may have to leave my home?"

Jefsen says because of the recession local Red Cross' donations are down 400-thousand dollars.  Now add to that a 500-thousand dollar funding cut from the United Way

And the Red Cross is facing its worst deficit ever.

Jefsen says it surprised her the United Way cuts would run so deep.

"A lot of communication was they were supporting critical needs. I don't know what's more critical than being homelss after your house burns down," says Jefsen.

Red Cross has a donation box at its offices in Charlotte.

More than likely it'll get more of a workout in the coming months.

In the meantime, the vans that run the transportation service may have to be parked.. or at least they won't be taking on any new clients.

And for the other Bob Brooks who may come along.. it'll hurt.

"Without this transportation I'm in really great difficulty. I don't know how I get to dialysis without it."

In the past 15 months, the local Red Cross says it's cut its staff 40-percent.. so it wouldn't have to cut into services.

They prepared for the worst.. the CEO told us they got the worst.

The American Red Cross is such a large organization.. can the local agency tap into some of the money from the national organization?

That's one of the misconceptions.. that it's well-funded.

The local organization has to sustain itself by local dollars.

Another misconception is that it's funded by the federal government.. not true.

If you want to see more about what the Red Cross does go to this website:

Or on our website look under web extras.