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Red Cross pledges good faith, leads Missouri's Sept. 11 memorial

September 06, 2002
By: Amy Menefee
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Red Cross -- which was accused of misleading donors and depriving victims' families after Sept. 11 -- is sponsoring the Missouri state Capitol's one-year remembrance of victims.

Controversy surrounding distribution of the $988 million Liberty Fund to families of Sept. 11 victims forced the Red Cross to release a clarified donor relations policy in June. Improved communication with donors and clear wording of advertisements topped the list of resolutions. Former Red Cross President and CEO Bernadine Healy resigned under duress in October after revealing that about $200 million believed to go to families was being withheld. The board of directors scrapped the intention to save money for future disasters, agreeing to donors' demands that all contributions go to the disaster for which their monies were designated.

Melissa Friel, executive director of the Capital Area Red Cross, said the organization has "learned a lot since Sept. 11."

"We do want to assure the American public that we are doing what we do best - helping disaster victims," Friel said. "We've learned the lessons, some of them the hard way, and we don't want to repeat them."

Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, a physician in the state Senate, said the Red Cross is likely trying to "restore some of the confidence that the American public does have in them."

"I'm sure they're looking at public reaction and possibly capitalizing on having people look at the good things they've done," Singleton said.

That is a good idea as long as they are following through on their promises, said R.L. Beasley, executive director of Missouri's American Family Association.

"Given the track record, it's interesting" that the Red Cross is hosting such events, Beasley said. "But anybody can have a rally on the Capitol steps."

He said "whoever's alongside the Red Cross" in the event should address the issue of the organization's accountability.

"Have they made restitution?" Beasley asked. "If not, they shouldn't be offended if people don't give to them for awhile."

Chris Kelly, spokesperson for Gov. Bob Holden, said the Red Cross approached the governor's office about holding an event on the Capitol grounds.

"It was their idea to do the event, and they said if we wanted to participate, we were welcome," Kelly said. "We wanted to do something, so it was kind of two birds with one stone."

On a national level, the Red Cross has been encouraging local chapters to support other local events rather than lead them, said Red Cross spokesman Phil Zepeda.

"We're saying if other local groups are leading events, help out rather than planning it," Zepeda said. "But some chapters are putting together great events. That's good stuff if there are local chapters doing that."

Zepeda said the national office did not know how many local Red Cross organizations were sponsoring Sept. 11 events or blood drives.

The Red Cross has come under fire for other decisions in the past year.

In California, a chapter banned a school choir from singing about God and the Declaration of Independence in a March event honoring Sept. 11 volunteers.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Red Cross joined other organizations in distributing condoms at the Olympic Games, a move that drew the ire of conservative groups. Likewise, the decision to extend Sept. 11 relief monies to "nontraditional" family members, including same-sex partners of victims, has been criticized.