“Goal is $10M:” After controversy over Red Cross ZIP code policy, Wisconsin Black Cross is launched

MILWAUKEE -- It was announced Wednesday, January 3rd that the American Red Cross is rescinding a new policy that ended on-site disaster responses in 10 Milwaukee ZIP codes, a day after we learned the policy would be expanded into other parts of the city. The move comes after a flurry of criticism, and even after the reversal, the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce responded by launching the Wisconsin Black Cross.

Ruben Hopkins

Ruben Hopkins, chairman of the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday was just days into a Herculean task.

"Our goal is $10 million. Not all in cash -- but a combination of money and the items that are needed in an emergency," Hopkins said.

The chamber, Milwaukee-area churches and other organizations will help fund the Wisconsin Black Cross, Hopkins said. The organization will help those in need, acting as an alternative to the Red Cross.

"We're at the point where we've decided we can provide for our own community," Hopkins said.

American Red Cross ZIP code policy

The backlash has come after an announcement from the Red Cross, indicating they'd no longer provide on-site disaster relief in these Milwaukee ZIP codes:

  • 53204
  • 53205
  • 53206
  • 53208
  • 53209
  • 53210
  • 53215
  • 53216
  • 53218
  • 53233

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Instead, volunteers would meet victims at the police station. The Red Cross cited few volunteers and a high volume of fires as reasons for the change -- but critics were quick to point out the impacted areas are predominantly made up of black and Hispanic residents.

"I don't want differentiation based on where someone lives," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Barrett praised the Red Cross for reversing the decision. Barrett said the underlying issue wasn't race, but rather, a lack of help.

"I think what has come from this though, and I think this is a real positive, I think our community has a real understanding now that the Red Cross needs more volunteers," Barrett said.

Patty Flowers

Below is a statement issued Wednesday by Patty Flowers, regional CEO of the Red Cross:

"In an effort to continue to serve people affected by home fires, we recently implemented new procedures in Milwaukee that we now understand were insensitive to the communities we serve.  We apologize for this mistake and will immediately return to the way we have responded to home fires in the past, consistent with American Red Cross practices and values nationwide.  While the resource constraints we have are real, and we have experienced a shortage of volunteers, we will redouble our efforts to recruit more volunteers and work with local leaders to help us do that.  The Red Cross will continue to help people in need after a home fire as soon as possible regardless of zip code."

"I think that this has a good ending to it," Barrett said.

The Wisconsin Black Cross was established Monday, January 1st, and they've raised $100 so far. Organizers said they're willing to help the Red Cross find volunteers.