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Local Red Cross chapters say donations are down

They have been there across the years for Long Island to lend a helping hand in times of disaster.

But the tables have turned.

With donations off steeply, the Nassau and Suffolk chapters of the American Red Cross say they need help.

If harsh economic times have hit the nation like a hurricane, then they have hit local Red Cross chapters like a raging house fire - the everyday kind of disaster that, it turns out, is the most common reason ordinary people come into contact with the agency.

Donations to the Suffolk chapter are down 15 percent to 20 percent, and Nassau Red Cross donations are down 30 percent, representatives for those chapters said.

"It's definitely the economy," Nassau chapter spokesman Sam Kille said. "The economy is affecting everyone right now."

Suffolk Red Cross executive director Diane Amarosa said she has concerns that the Suffolk Red Cross will make its $4 million budget for 2010. Kille said the Nassau Red Cross is about $100,000 below its $2.3 million for 2009-2010.

"We really need people to understand we rely on their support, and unfortunately, we understand that times are hard for people, but at the same time, imagine losing your home, everything you own, and for that person, the economy just got a whole lot worse," Kille said.

He said that scenario is played out more than 100 times a year on average in Nassau alone - times when the Red Cross helps out with food, housing and funds for clothing and medicine.

The Nassau Red Cross has been sending out tweets on the Web messaging site Twitter and linking to YouTube videos in an effort to raise funds.

"The disasters in Suffolk County are usually things like single-family house fires, and unless a house is totaled or someone dies, it's not reported in the media and people don't see it," Amarosa said.

But, she said: "Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, we have to be prepared to help people with these and other disasters. We can't tell them, 'No, sorry. We can't help you.' We never close."

This week alone, volunteers from the Nassau chapter assisted families who were homeless after house fires over three days in Lakeview, East Massapequa and Uniondale.

Officials said that while Long Islanders and metro-area New Yorkers have always responded generously following disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami, they often don't consider cases like a house fire a dozens blocks away, or a member of the armed forces who needs to get home following the birth of a child or death of a relative.

"People still want to support charities they have always normally supported," Amarosa said. "They just do not have the money right now to donate the amounts they have in the past ... I can understand that.

"But we do need their help because, whether we have the money or not, we do have to go to the scene of that fire, to that disaster."

To donate to the Nassau Red Cross, go to www.nassauredcross.org, call 516-747-3500 or send a check or money order to the American Red Cross in Nassau County at 195 Willis Ave., Mineola, N.Y., 11501.

To donate to the Suffolk Red Cross, go to www.suffolkcounty.redcross.org, call 631-924-6700 or send a check or money order to The Suffolk County Chapter of the American Red Cross at P.O. Box 745, Yaphank, N.Y., 11980.

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