When Carol Birkenstock took over as director of the Loudoun Red Cross chapter at the beginning of November, she found that the 90-year-old organization was in serious financial trouble. At the same time that the county’s population has exploded, requiring more services, "donations have not only not kept pace but have waned," she explained.
Birkenstock, formerly the executive director of New York City Fire Department’s official foundation, said that, aside from small funds from the county and the Town of Leesburg for a senior transportation program, the chapter is funded entirely by corporate and individual donations.
Since 1917, the chapter has done "an excellent job" of providing services to Loudoun County, she said. "We’re offering a lot to the community, but it does look like, if we don’t get funding in the near future, we really are in serious danger of having to close the chapter."
The primary mission of Loudoun County Red Cross, one of two independent Red Cross chapters left in Northern Virginia, is to help out in the case of any widespread or personal emergency, such as floods, hurricanes, or home or business fires. Birkenstock said the organization also helps with emergency preparedness, offering CPR, first aid and automatic external defibrillator (AED) lessons.
She said that the chapter also operates an Armed Forces Emergency Services program through which, "If you or a loved one are in the military, you can use the Red Cross to establish contact with each other." Chapter members also volunteer at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The chapter has already cut its few part-time staffers and is down to its full-time staff of seven, said Birkenstock, adding that the leadership was looking for services that could be cut. "It’s really not a good picture," she said.
She said that, for a lack of drivers, staff too often has to turn down senior citizens calling for rides, "and that’s a very difficult thing to do." She said the organization is also in need of volunteers, to make up for the part-time positions lost.
A press release from the chapter mentioned that a parcel of land acquired last year through an earmarked donation was intended for a new chapter house but may have to be sold "to meet minimum payroll and monthly expenses."
Birkenstock said that if the chapter could not sustain itself, it would either merge with the region’s other independent chapter in Prince William County or would be absorbed by the National Capital Region Chapter, either of which would likely mean a decrease in local services.
However, she said, "I can’t think that the public won’t step up."
— Mike DiCicco