In an effort to raise $100,000 by the end of July to help families displaced by house fires, the American Red Cross in Utah has turned to the fundraising site Crowdrise for donations.
The effort comes after a week that saw a surge of house fires across the state. The Red Cross has responded to eight house fires in the past week, more than tripling the number of weekly house fires the organization responds to on average.
Rich Woodruff of the American Red Cross said Tuesday that the recent surge in fires across Utah has taxed the local organization’s budget.
"Every once in a while we need to get out and turn up the appeal because we are responsible for our own revenue and expense," said Woodruff. "And we want to make sure we have reserves in the bank for any larger scale event — say, a wildfire that might hit us."
In the wake of the Rockport wildfire that tore through Summit County last year, for example, the Red Cross assisted more than 160 evacuees at its shelters, according to the organization’s website.
The national organization has used Crowdrise several times to raise money, but this is the first time the Utah branch has done so. The Crowdrise page, started last month, had garnered just $130 in donations as of Tuesday afternoon, a tiny drop in the bucket toward the ambitious $100,000 goal.
Acknowledging that the fundraising drive was "off to a slow start," Woodruff said the Red Cross is doing everything it can to make the public aware of the effort. He added that some of the $100,000 goal was being met through donations outside of Crowdrise.
Dozens of Utahns, including at least seven children, lost their homes to fires this past week.
"The Red Cross is always the first one on the scene besides emergency responders," said Woodruff. "It’s firefighters, police and Red Cross."
The Red Cross provides families with cash — about $1,000 on average — in the form of a preloaded charge card, which can be used to purchase clothing, food and temporary lodging.
In particularly desperate cases, the Red Cross has even provided families with furnishings or rent deposits to relocate.
Jeff Shuemaker, 42, of Tooele, is one of the Red Cross’s volunteer disaster responders. When a house in Tooele caught fire at 2:30 a.m. last Saturday, Shuemaker was on the scene within an hour providing assistance to a family that included a grandmother, a grandfather, their son, their grandson and a dog.
"A lot of it is comforting the family. You want to be sympathetic. We’re here to help," said Shuemaker.
The Red Cross gave the family food and helped find a motel in Salt Lake City for the night because there were no rooms available in Tooele.
"Helping people" is the best part about his job, said Shuemaker. "Seeing them smile after they have a major disaster. Being able to give them comfort. Helping them find a better place to live."
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