Gov. John Bel Edwards shelter visit

Gov. John Bel Edwards crouches down to talk to 5-year-old Jessica, one of the thousands of people who have evacuated their homes in Louisiana due to flooding, at the Red Cross shelter that has been set up at Southern University's F.G. Clark Activity Center.

I am writing in response to the Advocate article of Aug. 22 about the American Red Cross response in Louisiana.

Your article centered on why the Red Cross does not typically accept donations of food, clothing, medicines and other non-cash items at our shelters. The question is a good one, and I’d like to explain the reasons.

Let me start by saying the principal goal of the American Red Cross is always the care and safety of those who have no place else to turn. That’s why we take great care to ensure that all food we serve, and we have provided more than 260,000 meals and snacks in the past ten days, meets state health department guidelines. We appreciate when people prepare food and bring it to our shelters, but we just don’t have the capacity to inspect donated food to ensure it meets those safety standards.

When people bring donated clothing to our shelters, our volunteers, who at one point had 10,000 people in shelters, simply don’t have the time to sort or distribute the clothing. We have partnered with other organizations in the community to help us do this. Partners through the Louisiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are coordinating the receipt and distribution of donated items such as household goods and cleaning supplies; most have strongly discouraged people from donating clothing at this time.

As with other large-scale disasters, most relief agencies agree that financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most. It takes time and money to process, transport and then distribute donated items. Financial donations can be accessed quickly and put to use right away. This allows families who have lost everything to make their own decisions about what they need most. Additionally, financial donations allow non-profits and disaster victims to purchase items locally, stimulating the economy of the disaster-affected area.

We would also like to correct the assertion in the article that the Red Cross discourages prayer in our shelters. This is simply not true: Those in our shelters are always welcome to pray and gather among themselves. We recognize and are sensitive to the fact that hundreds of people from different backgrounds are often sharing a large space with limited privacy. In managing our shelters, we are committed to our Fundamental Principles, which state that we offer assistance without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion. Additionally, through our Spiritual Care program, trained Red Cross workers can provide spiritual care to an array of faiths for the victims and their families.

Large disasters like this one create more needs than any one organization can meet and that’s why the Red Cross has been working closely with the whole response community; federal, state, parish and local agencies to coordinate relief efforts.

To date, more than 2,300 Red Cross volunteers from Louisiana and all 50 states have responded to support this disaster, from staffing shelters, to delivering meals, providing mental health and health services and offering hugs and compassion. Our volunteers are committed to the people of Louisiana.

We appreciate that this is a difficult time for so many, and the American Red Cross remains committed to do all it can to support every one of those affected.

Joshua Joachim

regional executive officer, American Red Cross, Louisiana region

Baton Rouge