Donations are rolling in, but the money isn't enough to keep the Kenai chapter of the American Red Cross open. Because contributions haven't been able to keep pace with the cost of doing business and providing services, the doors of the Kenai Red Cross will be closed indefinitely.
"The organization statewide is in need of being able to align a budget and along with that, unfortunately, comes reduction in offices and staff," said Michelle Houlihan, the chief executive officer for the Red Cross of Alaska. "Expenses just exceed revenue, it's just simply that."
Even though the Kenai office will be closed, Houlihan said the Red Cross will still get help to displaced families as well as continue to provide first responders with meals, water and coffee in a major disaster. As for CPR and first aid training as well as HIV-AIDS prevention and awareness programs, Houlihan said there are other organizations and authorized providers in Homer, Seward, Kenai and Soldotna that will continue to provide the courses.
"We just won't have one centralized location on the peninsula for the time being," she said. "We will continue to work with emergency services here and work with other community nonprofits and emergency service organizations to better figure out how we can efficiently and effectively provide services to the Kenai Peninsula."
In order to do this, Houlihan said the Red Cross may partner with local nonprofits, training them in order to give the services the Red Cross provides. That way the nonprofit will filling the role of a local Red Cross chapter.
While it's still not certain how this closure will affect the community as a whole, Houlihan said this will have an effect on Annette Hakkinen, who used to be the programs manager for the Kenai chapter.
"Annette's position has been eliminated," Houlihan said.
When asked if Hakkinen would be able to comment, Houlihan said all media contact had to be done through her.
The Red Cross' closure on the Kenai Peninsula comes as a surprise to both the Kenai Fire Department and Central Emergency Services (CES). Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly said the fire department has worked closely with the Red Cross over the years. He said he will meet with state Red Cross officials next week to determine how that relationship will continue.
"(The Red Cross) is one of those agencies that you depend on to be there," he said. "There's certain things in an emergency that we can provide and they can provide. They were just a part of every disaster plan and any type of mitigation efforts that involved displaced families or people."
When asked if he knew of any of the nonprofits in town that could fill the void left by the Red Cross' departure, Tilly said he was in the process of looking those up and figuring out how to utilize those resources, but will continue to call on the Red Cross for help.
"They've assured me they're going to continue supporting us and supporting the community as best they can," he said.
CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale said losing the Red Cross on the Kenai Peninsula is going to have a tremendous effect on the way his department does business. Even though hotels can be booked via the Internet or by telephone, Hale said emergency victims feel much better meeting the person who is offering them help.
"They've been so cooperative in making sure the people have a place to stay and they at least have some clothes on their backs," he said. "This is going to be devastating down here. When you have somebody who can come to the scene and has the time to actually talk to the people, it's a (warmer) feeling when you have a personal contact and you know how things are going to get done."
After working with the Red Cross for almost nine years, Hale said they're the first agency he calls in order to get fire victims help and he feels the community's losing a valuable tool.
"As many fires we've had over the years, we've always had a positive effect and an immediate response no matter what time we would call," he said. "I hope Anchorage can pick up the slack and we'll be able to have the same response, it just won't be as quick. People can't drive two and a half, three hours for an appointment."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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