Did the Red Cross stop the distribution of hamburgers to Harvey evacuees?
Yes, this is true.
American Red Cross
A woman, Lindsay Scott vented her frustration in a Facebook post about an incident on September 1 where she and fellow volunteers tried to hand out 400 warm hamburgers to Harvey evacuees at a shelter near Jack Brooks Regional Airport. Scott says they were blocked by two Red Cross volunteers who told the group they were not following proper protocol and that the evacuees were just given sandwiches by the Red Cross.
WUSA9 contacted Patrick Collins, a chief pilot who flew the burgers to the location and saw the entire incident take place, described what happened next.
“Lindsay responded by asking them to be given more food since they had been there so long and they may have only eaten one meal that whole day. The gentleman again responded that they had already been fed. I asked him why they wouldn't keep the cold sandwiches and let us go ahead and distribute the hot hamburgers. He proceeded to approach me and became very confrontational to the point that I had to tell him that he needed to calm down and back up. He proceeded to tell me that we weren't going to tell them what to do, which was never my intention. I just didn't want the hamburgers to be set somewhere and have them get cold and wasted because a lot of effort had gone into getting them there.”
The Red Cross sent a statement to WUSA9 News confirming the incident did indeed happen. We have looked into what happened and want to address it directly. The safety of the people we serve is our first and utmost priority. Our volunteers and workers on the ground may not be perfect, but they are all working with the best of intentions and to the best of their ability.
Please know that if a volunteer steps in to a situation, they are not trying to overshadow the generosity or compassion of spontaneous assistance being offered but doing so based on training and past experience with that goal--the evacuees safety--in mind not with an intention to "take charge" or in any way diminish those kind efforts.
With donations like food especially, we have policies and procedures in place solely to protect the health of those who may already be in a weakened or vulnerable health state. Since the Red Cross cannot ensure the safety of food prepared in a non-commercial setting, we do not typically accept home-cooked food as donations.
Even properly prepared food, if not clearly monitored, can quickly go bad through no fault of those who prepared or are serving it--which could make a bad situation worse.
With all that in mind, we have spoken with the Deputy Director and volunteers on the scene. Again, while the volunteers may have appeared overzealous, they intervened out of a desire to protect impacted by Harvey, with their health and well-being in mind. Eventually, our volunteers assisted in handing out the burgers to people impacted by Harvey. These are extremely challenging and often life threatening situations--everybody is trying to meet all needs, while being cut off from the floods.
We greatly appreciate not just our volunteers but ALL volunteers and the generous support of the public. We are constantly reviewing our policies and procedures, learning to adapt--because each disaster is different--and learning from experiences. It is our hope you'll understand that we're all trying to do the right thing. Thank you for your patience and understanding. -Red Cross spokesperson
But Collins said the Red Cross representatives on scene never gave any further information or an explanation as to why the group could not distribute the burgers.
The pilot and the volunteers did end up handing out the burgers to the Harvey evacuees but outside of the shelter to military members helping with relief efforts.