Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: The Red Cross charges recipients for its assistance.
Origins: The Red Cross has long been dogged by the persistent belief that it extracts payment for its services from victims of disaster. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that notion surfaced again, this time asserting those left homeless and desperate were being charged for coffee, cups of juice and cookies.
The rumor is false. The Red Cross does not solicit payment for services rendered from the folks it is called upon to assist during times of emergency. The American Red Cross says on its page about disaster preparedness for seniors: "All American Red Cross emergency services are provided free of charge." Southeast Michigan Red Cross web site's
Q: How much does American Red Cross disaster assistance cost?The current rumor about the service's turning a profit by selling to the needy items it had been supplied with via donation dates back to World
A: All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by the voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. Disaster assistance is given free-of-charge without judgment or a promise of support.
Similarly, the Red Cross was said to be selling to servicemen cigarettes that had been donated by major tobacco companies.
The Red Cross blood donor service was also a target of rumormongering in WWII. Whispers swept along that blood donations had been accepted from the Japanese, thereby (it was said) making it likely the offspring of those receiving such transfusions would display Japanese characteristics. Similar concerns were raised about blood from African-Americans being added to the pool. Rumor was also used to discourage those inclined to donate blood: stories were spread that those who gave ran the risk of contracting infection or disease from unsterilized instruments.
The Affairs of Dame Rumor, a 1948 book about rumors rampant in America, recorded the following:
The Red Cross rumors illustrate that the enemy rumor mill was designed to sabotage anything the American people might do to help their own war effort. If they were asked to lend aid by contributing their money to this organization, there was a lie that the Red Cross money was terribly mishandled and their books unaudited. If they were asked to become volunteer workers, there was a canard about men in the army saying there is no need for it. If they were being enlisted as consistent blood donors, there was a prohibitive fable about how blood plasma could be kept for only two months and if not used by then was thrown away. If American ladies persisted in knitting sweaters, the falsehood to discourage them was that garments sent to England were being ripped up and the wool sold to the British people. And lies of inefficient practices and waste dogged the efforts of the Red Cross throughout the war.There is truth to one of the rumors, however. During WWII the American Red Cross did indeed charge American servicemen for coffee, doughnuts, and lodging. However, it did so because the U.S. Army asked it to, not because it was determined to make a profit off homesick dogfaces.
The request was made in a March 1942 letter from Secretary of War
This act resulted in the Red Cross' coming to be regarded by numerous GIs as having profited off them. Bad feeling exists to this day over the decision to charge American servicemen for these services, with any number of such soldiers and their families carrying long-lasting resentments against the service. Yet while that ire might have been merited, it was
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief of Staff, United States Army, addressed the controversy surrounding this issue in a statement to the press on
I am surprised to learn that one of the reasons [for Americans not contributing to the American Red Cross] is the complaints being leveled at the organization’s overseas operations by returning servicemen. For the most part these criticisms have grown out of a Red Cross policy of making nominal charges to our forces for food and lodgings in fixed Red Cross installations abroad. These complaints are distressing to me since this particular Red Cross policy was adopted at the request of the Army, so as to insure an equitable distribution among all service personnel of Red Cross resources.Even after World
I know the Red Cross. I have seen it in action. Overseas it performed with the precision of a well-trained army. It would be grave injustice to the splendid work of the Red Cross if its campaign should be retarded anywhere by mistaken criticisms.
A recent rumor to the effect that a serviceman had been loaned money by the Red Cross atBarbara "president and accounted for" Mikkelson
When the rumor proved to be unfounded, said a local Red Cross official, the serviceman wrote to deny the story: "I have not been asked to pay
The story of the interest charging went through a nearby summer resort "like wildfire," reported the official.
The Red Cross' version was this: the local serviceman had just been inducted and was beginning his service at an Air Force base. The Red Cross notified him of his mother's death, and since the serviceman was without enough money for the trip, the chapter advanced him more than $100 which he agreed to pay over a prolonged
Last updated: 12 September 2005
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